I recently read the "fictionalized" autobiography of Alma Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel and found it fascinating, so I was really eager to read this "fictionalized" account of the life of Russian ballet star Rudolf Nureyev. Unlike THE ARTIST'S WIFE (the story of Alma Schindler), DANCER isn't a fictionalized autobiography, but more of a fictionalized biography, though DANCER doesn't come close to documenting everything that went on in "Rudik's" life, nor should it. DANCER is a novel, a novel whose main character just happens to be Rudolf Nureyev and, as such, it is fascinating and intriguing.
If you want to know the factual events that made up the life of Rudolf Nureyev, then there are many good biographies of him out there. If you want to know what it might have felt like to be Nureyev, himself, or someone close to him, if you want to get caught up in the emotional rollercoaster world of the ballet, then DANCER is the book for you.
McCann has chosen to paint a portrait of Nureyev from the point of view of the people who were close to him: a fellow ballet student; a nurse in a hospital; the husband of his dancing instructor; Nureyev's own sister. I loved this choice and little by little, piece by piece, we get a view of Nureyev that is fascinating and determined, dark and moody and very, very complex.
McCann takes us from Nureyev's birthplace in the Urals to the Kirov Ballet to Paris to the bathhouses of New York City. We get a totally different view of Nureyev each time and each view enriches our understanding of this complicated and brilliant man.
McCann fills DANCER with wonderful details that really make the book come alive, although sometimes these details can be harsh. This isn't a glittering, shimmering look at the world of ballet; it's a look at an artist, in his glory and in his despair. Some of the details in Russia, in the Siberian town of Ufa, where Nureyev's family tries to exist as the family of an enemy of the Soviet government, are chilling and quite revealing.
It is difficult to describe music in prose and it is difficult to describe dance in prose, but McCann has done a wonderful job of describing the latter in DANCER. Even though I have much interest in ballet and knew many of the details of Nureyev's life before reading this book, after reading DANCER I felt I knew what it might be like to "be" Nureyev, an emotional experience I didn't get when I read the biographies.
I think DANCER is a highly imaginative book that is wonderfully well-written. I actually preferred it over any biography of Nureyev I have read thus far. If you're look for the facts of Nureyev's life and only the facts, perhaps a biography would suit your purposes better. If, however, you want an emotional experience and you want to be entertained as well, then DANCER will fill the bill on both counts and fill it beautifully. I would certainly recommend DANCER very highly.