Sunday, 28 August 2011


Architectural Digest - June 1985

ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST VISITS: RUDOLF NUREYEV Interior Design by Emilio Carcano Text by Lee Radziwill/Photography by Derry Moore

final act
Rudolf Nureyev's treasures, literal and sentimental, will go on sale in New York in January. Or will they?


Sunday, 18 December 1994 in New York Times

FOR JUST $50, Rudolf Nureyev's pale pink ballet slippers could be yours. They are, according to Christie's auction catalogue, "considerably soiled and worn" - but it's still a small price to pay for the tools of the great dancer's trade, especiall y whenthe sole of each is evocatively stamped with his name.
These are the cheapest items in a vast range of possessions from Nureyev's estate which Christie's is to auction in New York from 12-13 January. Four pairs of black ballet slippers "in good condition" are estimated at £100-£130 and a "tunic of black velvet with full sleeve shirt and collar of white silk" (which Nureyev wore for Les Sylphides at Covent Garden) is expected to fetch £1,300-£2,000.
The event kicks off with an evening sale of jewellery and ballet costumes, followed by the contents of Nureyev's New York apartment. These include some superb paintings, furniture, textiles, photographs, books - and some exotic street clothes. A wasp-waisted snakeskin suit made for him by Paul Zentner of San Francisco, for instance, is expected to fetch £2,000-£3,000. The finest offerings on sale are Nureyev's paintings: Fuseli's Satan Starting from the Touch of Ithuriel's Lance, a crazily dramatic late18th-century fantasy, is valued at £333,000-£460,000.
There is one cloud hanging over the sale, however. Nureyev's sister Rosa, and her daughter, Gouzel, who left Russia to live in France under the dancer's protection, are trying to get the sale cancelled by court action. They have succeeded in doing so before. Auctions scheduled to take place this time last year in London and New York were called off as a result of their protests.
Rudolf Nureyev, who had Aids, died on 6 January 1993 and his executors immediately turned to Christie's. What his relatives are trying to do is get his will annulled, claiming that Nureyev's wishes are not being properly interpreted; they have persuaded the French authorities to seal his Paris apartment so that nothing is removed before the dispute is resolved. Barry Weinstein, director of the foundation which inherited all Nureyev's property in America under the will, is confident of his legal position. "I have no doubt the sale will go ahead," he says.
In his will, Nureyev left his fortune to two foundations. His property in Europe went to the Ballet Promotion Foundation which he founded in 1975, while the American property was to fund a newly formed Rudolf Nureyev Dance Foundation with headquarters inChicago. The ballet costumes to be sold in January belong to the former, but the rest of the material for sale comes from his New York apartment and belongs to the American foundation.
The European Ballet Promotion Foundation had several tasks under the disputed will. The first was to pass large legacies to Nureyev's family - Rosa, Gouzel, a second sister called Rezeda, who is still in Russia, and her two sons. After that, the foundation was to promote dance, provide young dancers with scholarships, set up a memorial museum and fund medical research.
The American foundation has a more limited objective: to provide financial support for the "study, performance and appreciation" of classical dance. The two foundations point out that without selling off Nureyev's possessions, they cannot perform any of these tasks.
The material extravagance of Nureyev's later years was in stark contrast to the poverty of his youth. He was born on a train at Irkutz, on the banks of Lake Baikal in Siberia, and grew up in a one-room wooden house in Ufa, the capital of the Bashkir republic. He shared it with his parents, three sisters - one of whom has died - and two other families. He wrote in his 1962 autobiography of "constant, gnawing hunger".
When he became an internationally famous dancer, Nureyev handled his money cannily. Dabbling in the stock market was not for him, and he was loath to pay too much to the taxman. From 1975 he channelled his spending through the Ballet Promotion Foundation, which is registered in Liechtenstein and has its headquarters in Zurich; he took out Austrian citizenship and made Monaco his official domicile, but he lived in Paris. He spent his money on property and art.
Besides the Paris and New York apartments, Nureyev had a house at La Turbie, above Monte Carlo; an island off the Tuscan coast; a farm in Virginia; and a house on St Barts in the Caribbean. He sold his British home - a charming Queen Anne house in Richmond - more than 10 years ago when he moved to France. His most important art works, however, were kept in New York. One of his old friends, Douce Francois, explained Nureyev's philosophy: "He said that buying beautiful things was the perfect combination; it gave him immediate pleasure and was a sensible investment for the future." He had no truck with art advisers - he bought what he liked with an extraordinary flair for quality.
Nureyev's three greatest paintings are English, and were bought quite recently for the New York apartment - the Fuseli picture, which illustrates a scene from Milton's Paradise Lost (estimate £330,000-£460,000), a Reynolds portrait, George Townsend, Lordde Ferrars (£230,000-£300,000) and Portrait of George Nugent Grenville by Sir Thomas Lawrence (£66,000-£100,000).
Each of these paintings could almost be seen as a "still" from a ballet. Fuseli's Satan is flying through the air in a balletic leap; in both portraits the men are posed against landscape backdrops reminiscent of the theatre. Two of these pictures of Nureyev's came from the saleroom; the Reynolds was bought for £270,000 at Christie's in 1986, and the Fuseli for £770,000 at Sotheby's in 1988. All three are almost 8ft high and decorated Nureyev's huge reception room in his New York apartment. The room hadplain wooden floors like a stage, and Nureyev placed a white marble torso in dramatic isolation at its centre - a Roman copy of the Diadumenos by Polykleitos, a sculpture much lauded in Classical literature but only known from later copies. According toChristie's, Nureyev's copy "is considered one of the most skilful and precise"; it is valued at £200,000-£330,000.
The sparsely furnished room also contained four large, upholstered sofas which Nureyev was given by the opera singer Maria Callas, some ele-gant French Empire furniture and huge early 19th-century French history paintings featuring naked men - also good examples of their kind.
For his bedroom, Nureyev adopted a different style, combining Renaissance furniture and paintings with an explosion of textiles - he adored fabrics, especially Kashmir shawls, Oriental carpets, Japanese brocades and antique costume. He kept a coral-pink closed robe of watered silk, from around 1745, on a mannequin in his bedroom (estimate £33,000-£46,000) - she often served as a hat stand for his trademark green velvet cap. The room also contained a "mostly 16th-century" oak and marquetry tester bed (£10,000-£13,000), elaborately carved and usually draped in a cascade of textiles; a Jacobean oak settle (£2,000-£2,500); a series of small 16th-century portraits of well-to-do gentlemen, mostly Flemish (variously estimated from £4,000 to £120,000), and a very good double manual harpsichord dated 1760, made in London by Jacob Kirkman (£65,000-£80,000).
Nureyev achieved an even more exotic fusion of cultures in the dining-room, with a Jacobean oak refectory table (£8,000-£12,000) and a set of 12 chairs made by Thonet in Austria around 1906: among the first examples of modernist furniture (£13,000-£20,000). Over them hung a 55-light Venetian glass chandelier in rococo style (£16,000-£23,000). The walls were papered with hand- painted 19th-century Chinese landscape wallpaper panels (£13,000-£20,000).
While the contents of the New York apartment give a vivid overview of Nureyev's taste, the Paris apartment, when it is unsealed, will yield a very personal collection. There are more than a hundred 19th-century oil studies of male nudes; studies painted from a live model were a standard feature of art education in the 19th century and are still known in France as "academies". Some of Nureyev's are by great names such as Gericault, others by more or less unknown artists. The collection underlines Nureyev's ability to recognise good painting, irrespective of the fame of the artist, as well as reflecting his interest in the male nude.
The Paris apartment also contains most of his 19th-century Russian furniture and the bulk of his collection of period clothes. He was fascinated by antique costume, its design, texture and colour; the collection provided inspiration for many ballet wardrobes. His other homes contained few valuable antiques - though all contained organs for him to play. The New York organ is included in the auction, a combination chamber organ and barrel organ made in London by Flight and Robson in around 1820 (£16,000-£23,000).
Rosa and Gouzel contend that, once all this is sold, there will be nothing left for the memorial museum Nureyev wanted. The trustees reply that they have to sell to comply with his will. Originally they intended to convert the Paris apartment into a museum, but introducing the public - let alone museum guards - to a bourgeois apartment block on the Quai Voltaire, a smart address on the Left Bank, proved too complicated. They are now in discussion with the Bibliotheque Nationale about mounting a two-roomdisplay there when the main library moves to the suburbs; a memorial display at the Opera, the Parisian equivalent of Covent Garden, has also been considered. A selection of exhibits has already been made by the Ballet Promotion Foundation, capable of presenting a vision of the great dancer's lifestyle by combining some of his finest ballet costumes with personal possessions. Naturally, they are not included in the auction.

In Nureyev trial, a portrait of the dancer's final year emerges - Rudolf Nureyev's estate
by Paul Ben-Itzak in Dance Magazine / Jan, 1998

NEW YORK CITY -- if it was unclear after the first day of trial in federal district court who would win the battle for Rudolf Nureyev's $7 million in New York assets -- the American foundation that bears his name or his sister and niece -- it was clear that the late ballet stars reputation would be tarnished by the testimony.

The Rudolf Nureyev Foundation, headed by the dancer's longtime attorney Barry Weinstein, is asking the court to affirm its right to proceeds from the sale of shares to Nureyev's Dakota apartment and the art collection and other objects in the home. The de facto defendants in the case are Nureyev's sister Roza and niece Gouzel, who have won a $2 million settlement from the European Nureyev foundation, in addition to $200,000 Nureyev willed to Roza and 50'000 to Gouzel.

"What they want," Gerald Rosenberg, the relatives' lawyer, told Judge Denny Chin in his opening statement November 3, "is their share of the $7 million."

While Rosenberg had not called his witnesses at press time, and they were not immediately available to comment, they have claimed the star was sick and feeble in his latter days. They say he was often confused, and that Weinstein exploited this to get Nureyev to set up the foundation.

Anticipating these attacks, foundation lawyer Michael Mariano tried to establish that Nureyev was so busy during his final year -- mostly conducting -- that he had to be of sound mind. Mariano also strove to prove that the dancer set up the foundation to avoid estate taxes, insulate himself from predatory lawsuits, and perpetuate his name; that Nureyev's relations with the two relatives were rocky; and that he could be tight with money.

Nureyev signed his will in April 1992, and instructions turning over the New York assets to the foundation in October, according to Mariano. He died in January 1993. The signing of the will was witnessed by friend Deuce Francois, Gouzul, and assistant Neil Boyd. Since the documents were signed in Nureyev's last year, an intimate portrait of his deteriorating health has emerged.

Boyd said Nureyev became ill while conducting in the Russian city of Kazan in March and had to be rushed back to Paris and hospitalized. "I suspected he had AIDS," Boyd testified. In April, still ill, he flew to New York to conduct a performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Metropolitan Opera House. "My first responsibility every morning," said Boyd, "was to make sure [his] nurse [administered] his medicine. He had a plate [in his arm] -- he called it his filling station -- she would administer medicine for half an hour."

As to Nureyev's relations with Gouzel, who frequently stayed at the Paris apartment, Boyd said "there were times when she'd cook for him, times when she refused, times when they'd have fights." When Nureyev was sick, Boyd recalled, Gouzel wanted to cook but Nureyev didn't want to eat what she had to cook. Gouzel, he said, cooked "what her mother thought he should have -- the type of food they'd grown up with in Ufa. It was healthy, but not what he wanted, so he would throw it out and eat what he wanted."

Boyd recalled occasions when he would answer the phone and no one would speak on the other end, and Nureyev would explain, " 'Oh, that's my sister.' And he would say it in quite colorful terms."

He said Nureyev owed him $1,000 when they parted company in October 1992.

Paris Opera Ballet star Charles Jude, who knew Nureyev for twenty years, confirmed Nureyev's tightness with money. When he described visiting the star on the island of St. Bart -- recalling that he would have to pay for himself once he got there, and would also cook for Nureyev -- Chin asked it Nureyev paid the airfare. Jude explained that if Nureyev was on tour, the company would buy him a first-class ticket. "He would exchange the first-class ticket for two coach tickets. At the airport, Rudolf would say, 'I am Mr. Nureyev,' and they'd give him first class and I'd fly in coach."

Jude said Nureyev was "very angry with Gouzel. because she didn't want to do what Rudolf wanted her to do, and when you don't do what Rudolf wants, you don't exist."

When he was hospitalized in Paris, Jude said, Nureyev would only stay in the hospital overnight if Jude agreed to stay, which the dancer did. When he visited Nureyev's room the next morning, Jude recalled, "He was very happy to be alive."

The non-jury trial was expected to continue through November 14. Weinstein has declined to comment, except to say, "We've done a lot of good work -- I think Rudolf would be proud."

James Dean in tights

Julie Kavanagh's Rudolf Nureyev reveals a supreme commitment to art that is an example to us all, says Simon Callow

Simon Callow
The Guardian, Saturday 29 September 2007
Rudolf Nureyev: The Life
by Julie Kavanagh

No one who was alive and conscious at the time will forget the dramatic circumstances of Rudolf Nureyev's defection to the west at the height of the cold war, the eruption of this shocking new talent into the rarefied world of classical dance and his subsequent conquest, in short order, of the great stages of Europe and America. Julie Kavanagh's magnificent biography makes it clear that this was no brief dramatic interlude: it was all like that, every minute of his 55 years on Earth.

From the moment of his birth on the trans-Siberian railroad, Nureyev's life was lived in capital letters. His wartime childhood in the Bashkirian capital of Ufa was one of desperate impoverishment, but when he was seven his mother smuggled him into a performance of the famous Soviet ballet The Song of Cranes, and his destiny was set. "I knew. That's it, that's my life, that will be my function. I wanted to be everything on stage." His passion for physical self-expression led to his engagement by a folk-dancing troupe shortly after; he was then taken up by various astonished local ballet teachers but struggled to progress until, flagrantly defying his true-believing Stalinist father, he arrived, rather late for a dancer, at the Kirov Ballet School.

There - despite inadequate earlier training and physical shortcomings that he would never wholly overcome - he showed iron certainty about the path he intended to follow. His Tatar pride was deeply offended by the racist scorn heaped on him ("Bashkirian pig", they called him), but it only fuelled his determination to show them all; even at the ripe age of 17, he was motivated by his lifelong compulsion to make up for lost time. He worked slavishly, demanding the opportunity of partnering the much more experienced female stars of the company, rejuvenating their dancing while learning from them, a pattern that would be frequently repeated over the next decade. His wilful and often unruly behaviour in class and on stage did nothing to impede his rapid progress through the ranks of the Kirov, leading to ecstatic acclaim for him on tour with them in Paris in June 1961 and the famous last-minute defection, straight from the pages of Le Carré, at Le Bourget airport.

Russia was simply too small for him. His immediate ambitions were precise: he wanted to study with his idol, the Danish danseur noble Erik Bruhn; and he wanted to partner the Royal Ballet's prima ballerina assoluta, Margot Fonteyn. Within months of his defection, he had met, studied under and fallen in love with Bruhn; a couple of months later, at the age of 24, he was paired with the 42-year-old Fonteyn. Their relationship made dance history. No one who saw them together in the flesh can ever forget the overpowering sense of aliveness they created, the interplay, the intimacy, tenderness and mutual inspiration; sometimes - in Frederick Ashton's Marguerite and Armand, for example - it was positively X-certificate. Fonteyn seemed a dancer and a woman reborn, while Nureyev's physical beauty, his presence and the bravura of his dancing - allied to his extraordinary personality, half savage and half almost feminine voluptuary - created a sensation: Rudimania swept first London, then the world.

Though he was working within strictly classical bounds, he made the prevailing external perfection of the Royal Ballet dancers seem dull. Immersed in tradition and in appearance the quintessence of romanticism, he was none the less intensely contemporary, rebellious, iconoclastic, moody: James Dean in tights. Kavanagh acutely observes the influence of the great acting teacher Stanislavski on Russian dancers: they were accustomed to thinking in terms of character and an emotional through-line. Nureyev's Bluebird was not "prettily poised for meaningless flight" but "tense with a strong desire to really fly away". Not that he was a Method dancer; far from it. The audience was a crucial part of the experience, and he wanted them to be aware of what it cost him. His preparation for a step was designed to signal something remarkable coming: he deliberately created tension, as Kavanagh says, in order to release it in virtuosity. He wanted to dominate his audience, to make passionate love to them. In this he succeeded triumphantly; his audiences succumbed to a kind of collective orgasm. No wonder Mick Jagger went around London saying he wanted to be Nureyev.

Of course, there were many people both inside and outside the profession who disapproved. George Balanchine had no time for him at all. Nureyev idolised the great choreographer, offering - at the hysterical height of Rudimania - to join his company. "When you're tired of playing at being a prince," the choreographer drily told him, "come back to me." Again and again Balanchine, who figures throughout the book as a mordantly judgmental figure, rejected him, which broke Nureyev's heart. None the less he worked with other modern choreographers (the first classical dancer to do so), learning difficult new techniques at a time when his body was beginning to wear out. He appeared on Broadway, bringing classical dance and new work to entirely new audiences. In addition, he was choreographing ballet after ballet. It was not something at which he excelled, but he was, says Kavanagh, a "peerless pedagogue", determined to pass on what he knew to his colleagues, "total body feeling in total body movement".

His personal life was equally intense. In this area Kavanagh is not prurient, but neither is she incurious. A virgin until the age of 21, he then had an affair with his revered teacher's wife; shortly after, he started an affair with a male dancer. Typically of Nureyev, they didn't just go to bed together: they became blood brothers. Once he discovered sex, there was no holding him back. Apart from one or two genuinely amorous relationships, above all with Bruhn, he had no time for love ("the curse", as he called it. "No personal involvement. That's been abolished"). For him, sex was essentially a mechanical release - "a liberation" - and he was increasingly blatant about his need for it. In Paris, when he went into the back room at Le Trap, the entire bar followed him to watch. Before long he was buying boys by the crateload; it was inevitable that once Aids was in circulation, he would fall prey to it. Not that he let it hamper him until almost the very end. His sense of time running out pushed him further and further into an insane schedule of performances across the globe, hastily learning new steps, barely rehearsing them, yet somehow giving them his whole personality and all his artistry.

His body, however, was increasingly battered. "Since 1973," Kavanagh notes, "Rudolf had been dancing with a permanent tear in his leg muscle; he had destroyed his Achilles tendon by years of landing badly; he had heel spurs; his bones were chipped so that even basic walking gave him pain." His legs had turned to stone. "It's always bandages," observed Nureyev, philosophically, "heel-pads for ever." None of this deterred him. Friend after friend was dying: Bruhn (unquestionably the love of his life); the critic Nigel Gosling, who had sustained him from the moment he arrived in the west; Fonteyn. At this point, though Kavanagh remains admirably cool, the book starts to become unbearably harrowing. I'm glad I was at home when I read about his visit to Fonteyn in hospital to persuade her to have a leg cut off; I recommend a strong drink at this point. His heartbreaking attempts to start a new career as a conductor are almost equally affecting.

He carried on dancing, on one occasion only six days after a major operation on his kidney: discharging himself from hospital, he flew to Australia and danced with a catheter in place. With perfect symbolism, his last two performances were as an angel (in Budapest) and the evil witch Carabosse from Sleeping Beauty: he had both within him. Kavanagh never apologises for him, nor does she try to extenuate his frequently brutal behaviour. What she makes clear is that these were flaws in a titanic human being who never ceased to strain every fibre of his being to serve dance. For him there was never any comfort zone. To be a dancer, he said, was "sacrificial work". Kavanagh's book, apart from its comprehensive and compulsively readable account of Nureyev's life and art, and its exceptional lucidity about the history and technique of dance, is an important wake-up call to the lily-livered rest of us: this is what performing can be, but only if we give it everything. Nothing less will do.

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