Nureyev: The Life Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Oct 2 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The first international ballet superstar, Rudolf Nureyev (1938–1993) made headlines when he defected from Russia in 1961. His onstage partnership with the Royal Ballet's ballerina assoluta Margot Fonteyn received legendary acclaim. Formerly a Kirov star, trained by the famed ballet teacher Alexander Pushkin and inspired by Nijinsky and Stanislavsky, he shocked and seduced the West with his charismatic stage presence and his passionate, sometimes rough-edged dancing. British ballet critic Kavanagh (Secret Muses: The Life of Frederick Ashton) captures his phenomenal work ethic, his hunger for new dance experiences (with Jerome Robbins, Martha Graham and Paul Taylor) and his flamboyant life. Her writing style is both readable and sophisticated, showing Nureyev's wit and generosity alongside his carelessness and cruelty. She dissects ballet arcana like the Bournonville and Vaganova techniques—but doesn't stint on celebrity dish. Nureyev's affair with the celebrated Danish dancer Erik Bruhn, his desperate need to dance for George Balanchine and his competition with the younger ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov are detailed, alongside his relationships with Jackie Kennedy, Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger. Kavanagh presents a definitive and moving portrait of one of the 20th century's most hypnotic, ruthless and hedonistic artists. Photos. (Oct. 2)
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Praise for Julie Kavanagh's Secret Muses: The Life of Frederick Ashton
"Not only the best biography of a ballet figure but, far more important, a Proustian recollection of that glamorous near-mythical time, the first half of our now setting century."
"[Julie Kavanagh is] a Nancy Mitford of ballet, mingling gossip, social history, and critical commentary. London in the twenties and thirties... is re-created from personal accounts rendered at first hand, not mined from books."
--Arlene Croce, The New Yorker
"Both critically authoritative and juicily anecdotal... An evident affection for England's first great choreographer doesn't stop Kavanagh from making fun of Ashton's unbridled snobbery and legendary meanness."
--Miranda Seymour, The Sunday Times (London)
"A remarkable achievement. It is fresh, crisp, and clear... An intimate and compelling portrait of a great artist."
"A razor-sharp, often uproariously funny portrait of a demi-monde [that] is fascinating even to those poor souls with zero enthusiasm for ballet."
--Rupert Christiansen, The Spectator
Top Customer Reviews
His was a life lived from place to place from humble beginnings in a Russian village to the most luxurious surroundings the world could offer. He was an icon, libidinous, both men and women were drawn to him. The great love of his life, according to this author, was the great Danish dancer Erik Bruhn. One reason for his defection Nureyev is quoted as saying is because he wanted to learn to dance like Bruhn and "to study with Bruhn's teacher, the Russian born Vera Volkova, a childhood friend of Pushkin's."
Many were to play a part in Nureyev's life and career, They helped him in numerous ways, introductions, opportunities, advancing his talent. However, once these people had served their purpose they "became dispensable."
A trained ballet dancer Ms. Kavanagh brings insightful commentary to this stunning biography, which abounds with quotes from letters, diaries, and interviews. All of these bring an immediacy to her narrative, an accessibility, if you will, to Nureyev's thoughts and ambitions. He was, of course, a superstar, an idol who lived a flamboyant life and brought a spectacular aura to the world of dance. Nureyev the man was unparalleled, and so is his biography by Julie Kavanagh.
- Gail Cooke
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Unlike her predecessor Richard Buckle, whose dance bios read like transcribed engagement books, Kavanagh offers a nearly perfect balance of details and distillation, compellingly tracing arcs in her subject's life. She pays extra attention to Rudi's first years in the West, richly detailing his two key relationships--with Margot Fonteyn, whom he ignited just as she was about to retire, and with Eric Bruhn, the one dancer he would learn from and the love of his life--plus the recasting of his dancing into a fusion of Russian and Western. Rudi's restless gay life is all there, yet without prurience. Eventually he settled down, for a time, with Wallace Potts, an all-American gay boy whose goodness and devotion shine through quite attractively (other acolytes followed). In these pages, Rudi lives just like a coddled star athlete: no matter how beastly his conduct, somebody always satisfies his needs and keeps his ego fully inflated. A fine biography and a great read.
Julie Kavanagh has documented the life of this dancing man in this encyclopedic volume. She includes information about Nureyev's early training in his hometown, Ufa, his extensive training with mentor Pushkin and Pushkin's wife, Xenia in St. Petersburg. She details his defection to the West in Paris that read like a spy novel - complete with KGB operatives.
Nureyev passion for dance and for learning propels him to work with choreographers from the Paris Opera Ballet to West Side Story. Kavanagh includes titillating factoids about Nureyev's personal life - hobnobbing with the rich and famous, his womanizing, his homosexual lifestyle, and his final battle with HIV/AIDS. She also talks about his dancing.
Nureyev is first and foremost a ballet dancer and she documents his transition from the formal classical ballet style to the avant-garde modern dance styles he helped to create.
This tome, and it is a tome of nearly 700 pages without counting the extensive footnotes, acknowledgements and index, is an extensive account of a fascinating person. It is quite readable, with the caveat that there are multitudinous Russian names, ballet terminologies, and musical references. These kept me reading somewhat slower than usual.
The book also has three large sections of photographic illustrations.
Armchair Interviews says: Anyone with a strong interest in ballet history or in Nureyev himself will find this to be a very satisfying book.