Helene

Julie Kavanagh's Nureyev Biography

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On a different thread, ViolinConcerto cited a review by Lewis Segal of the documentary aired by PBS, 'Nureyev: The Russian Years' and a preview of Julie Kavanaugh's upcoming biography, Nureyev: The Life, which addressed the issue of Nureyev and demi-pointe. I've created this thread to discuss the Kavanaugh biography.

leonid wrote

I have just read Segal's article and found the article appalling in tone and much of what he reported that others have said or written unbelievable.

No one wants a hagiography, but historical accuracy must prevail and judgement of someones truth or otherwise when telling a story needs to be applied.

As to KGB files we already know the lies that were spread about Nureyev and others who chose to leave Russia.

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Thanks, Helene. I wanted to add that you can pre-order the book on Amazon (cllick the link above). Publication date is supposed to be October 2 in the US.

Segal's take on Nureyev is so emotionaly overwrought and vitriolic ("sociopath") that he creates the impression that Kavanagh is a muckraker who has raked quite a lot of muck. Whether this is actually the case, we'll find out when the book appears. In the meantime, links to pre-reviews, interviews, etc., would be welcome.

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Well, Kavanaugh's already gone into grand detail about Ashton's sex life, so why not Nureyev's? I mean, it tells us so much about what made him a great artist.

It makes one glad not to be famous.

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From Segal's review, it sounds like in his opinion, Kavanaugh doesn't go far enough, and isn't enough of an iconoclast.

I'd rather read what Kavanaugh says, rather than what Segal says she says.

(Kavanaugh's book is also in our "Mini Store" [link under our logo]).

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Ugh, reading that Segal review made me sick, as it seems to twist every action into proof that Nureyev was a "sociopath." I can't wait to read the actual Kavanaugh biography, although I thought the Solway biography was very well-researched and was satisfied with it.

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A tip for those looking for the author on a search engine: it's "Kavanagh" without the "u."

As to the sex and celebrity side of things, they seem much more relevant to Nureyev's biography than they were to poor Frederick Ashton's. Nureyev courted the press and never seemed to have many secrets. His celebrity as a dancer was very much intertwined with his celebrity as a larger than life character and blatantly sexual being.

Nureyev's dancing, it sometimes seemed to me, was actually rather restrained when compared to his behavior off stage. At least we know that Kavanagh will be able to do justice to his public, artistic life, no matter what she ends up saying about his private life..

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Well, Kavanaugh's already gone into grand detail about Ashton's sex life, so why not Nureyev's? I mean, it tells us so much about what made him a great artist.

It makes one glad not to be famous.

I would like to know how Nureyev's sex life made him a great artist? I know it made him dead.

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A tip for those looking for the author on a search engine: it's "Kavanagh" without the "u."

"His celebrity as a dancer was very much intertwined with his celebrity as a larger than life character and blatantly sexual being."

Really did the whole world know about his sexuality? I think not.

Many of his fans were women(so were Fonteyn's) and in the 60's people who went to the ballet in London where he spent a lot of time, were publicly less obsessed with sex and his appeal to gay men at that time seemed very limited.

In the UK in the 1960's at least, the population was only just leaving behind the accepted moral code of the earlier majority. Nureyev's sexuality was not discussed in the press and it was only when his partner, assistant and film maker was seen regularly around, that any such talk really developed among ballet goers. He was frequently photographed with women and there was gossip about him and a member of America's high society and others.

His earlier relationship with Erik Bruhn was known, that was seen to have an aura of romance about it. It was not discussed in sordid or explicit terms in my experience and never reached the press at that time.

Having watched ballet in various countries since 1960 when still at school, it was my impression that ballet-goers were more interested in performances and what was happening next season rather than cheap gossip.

It is quite apparent to everyone that society values have deteriorated and people are now baying for the blood and souls of distinguished people of culture, who made inestimable contributions to many lives.

I think Kavanagh's book on Ashton missed elements of his personality that I had witnessed and that senior members of the Royal Ballet were affronted at much which was said in her biography.

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"His celebrity as a dancer was very much intertwined with his celebrity as a larger than life character and blatantly sexual being."

Really did the whole world know about his sexuality? I think not.

Probably not at the time of his defection. And possibly not in all places. But by the latter part of the 60s, in New York City at least, this was widely known among those who attended ballet regularly, and was quite visible if you were in the right part of town.

I don't think it was part of his image in the press, and there were no blogs to obsess about such things and hang the laundry out for all to see.

However, the terms "exotic," "outrageous," and even "glamourous" carried a subtext in those days as they do today. It was fun, not prurient. And there were fewer fundamentalist ministers in the media to remind us how sinful a great deal of life is reputed to be.

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By the mid-1970s (when I started being interested in ballet) Nureyev's sexuality was discussed, publicly and privately, although, as has been pointed out, not incessantly. I can remember reading that "pansexuality" was part of his appeal, and one of the first things I read about him, in Ballet Review, was a comment by Violette Verdy (meant in the nicest possible way) that he was a "great big Muslim whore." That said, I agree with leonid that this wasn't the focus of articles in the world before People Magazine. People discussed Nureyev as a dancer. One might ask, "Is he gay?" and get a "Oh, God yes" as an answer, but that was the end of the conversation, at least in my circles. (Nureyev was interviewed by John Gruen for Gruen's gossip book, "The Private World of Ballet" and asked why he wasn't married. His answer was, "Why should I make some girl miserable?" and I think it was taken by many to be a reference to his justly famous temperament.)

I'm looking forward to the PBS special, especially the dance footage :)

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i also recall when morley safer interviewed him for 60 minutes, and asked if he regretted not having married and produced little nureyevs and his response was something along the lines of 'and what if they were not as good as me? what would i do with those imbeciles?'

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A tip for those looking for the author on a search engine: it's "Kavanagh" without the "u."

:) Thank you, bart -- I've changed the spelling in the title of the thread.

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"Why should I make some girl miserable?"

That's a very good answer to that question.

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"Why should I make some girl miserable?"

That's a very good answer to that question.

He could have and chose not to, and all would have been well from a public-facing standpoint. And he didn't seem to be interested in finding someone for whom this would be a well-understood bargain, either.

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"Why should I make some girl miserable?"

That's a very good answer to that question.

I remember reading the same question, followed by the same reply in, if I remember correctly, different interview. In that context, Nureyev seemed to be alluding most obviously to his never-in-one-place-for-long jetsetting lifestyle, but there was plenty of room for inference. It's a brilliant answer!

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Well, Kavanaugh's already gone into grand detail about Ashton's sex life, so why not Nureyev's? I mean, it tells us so much about what made him a great artist.

It makes one glad not to be famous.

I would like to know how Nureyev's sex life made him a great artist? I know it made him dead.

I took this to be Leigh speaking tongue-in-cheek, which he does so well.

Leigh?

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Well, Kavanaugh's already gone into grand detail about Ashton's sex life, so why not Nureyev's? I mean, it tells us so much about what made him a great artist.

It makes one glad not to be famous.

I would like to know how Nureyev's sex life made him a great artist? I know it made him dead.

I took this to be Leigh speaking tongue-in-cheek, which he does so well.

Leigh?

When I posted the above I had just read Segal's article and I was extremely irritated by it, so much so that I missed the irony in Leigh's comment.

My apologies.

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I don’t want to start the old ‘Secret Muses’ debate up again, but although the book was far from flawless I found much of what Kavanagh had to say about Ashton and his love affairs to be of considerable interest. (The letters to Dick Beard, to take only one example, were remarkable reading.) And from what I gather, we owe much of the new material in the forthcoming documentary to one of Nureyev’s early lovers. I’m looking forward to both film and book.

I also suspect that, whatever his views while he was still alive (he was a mixture of discretion and boldness, it seems to me) Nureyev would be tickled pink to know that all these years later people are still interested in his sex life.....

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Nureyev would be tickled pink to know that all these years later people are still interested in his sex life.....
About that, at least, there can be no controversy. :)

Especially since we are also still very interested in, and fascinated by, his art.

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That sort of goes without saying, at least as far as BTers are concerned, I should think. (I trust I don’t have to supply an 'I’m Interested in the Art' disclaimer every time the subject arises.)

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That sort of goes without saying, at least as far as BTers are concerned, I should think. (I trust I don’t have to supply an 'I’m Interested in the Art' disclaimer every time the subject arises.)

The last time I checked the membership list, Lewis Segal wasn't on it, so I think we're safe :)

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The producer of the documentary makes an interesting point about Nureyev and his excesses:

In the end, Mr. Bridcut said, working on Nureyev: The Russian Years was not so different from working on his music films. It deals with the same excitement and problems of artistry — the degree to which real artists have to focus intensely on their own work at the expense of those around them, he said. This self-absorption — self-obsession, even — can be hard for those close to them. Benjamin Britten is a classic example, and yet those who were caught in his flame, even if they were burned, still have a great love for him, which is quite remarkable. The same is true of Nureyev.

(Copied from the Sunday LINKS, the first post. Thanks, Mme. Hermine.

http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.p...mp;#entry210982

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Well, Kavanaugh's already gone into grand detail about Ashton's sex life, so why not Nureyev's? I mean, it tells us so much about what made him a great artist.

It makes one glad not to be famous.

I would like to know how Nureyev's sex life made him a great artist? I know it made him dead.

I took this to be Leigh speaking tongue-in-cheek, which he does so well.

Leigh?

When I posted the above I had just read Segal's article and I was extremely irritated by it, so much so that I missed the irony in Leigh's comment.

My apologies.

Someone's sex life does tell us about what makes them a great artist when it is obviously libido that goes into all kinds of artistic artistry, and there is not even always even any gap in someone like Nureyev between aspects of their sexuality and their art. Other dancers too, he was just more flamboyant, I think that's cool enough and that his wildness of sexuality should have been part of what made him unique. In any case, it's not possible that it would not. Of course, details of it are unnecessary for that art and this then forms a new more pornographic field. I believe it is in Suzanne Farrell's 'Holding on to the Air' that she says something about how neither she nor Balanchine were especially interested in sex. So the libido gets redirected effectively--this doesn't mean Farrell didn't come across as very sexy sometimes, but it was a different sort of sexuality one would see with a dancer like her than with someone like Nureyev who did go to the Eagle's Nest and did go to the piers on the Hudson. So what? I did too.

But Bart is right about the way everybody in the Arts knew about Nureyev's sexual adventuring in the 70s--at least in New York. There were photos bandied about, he was seen frequently in racy places (by me among others), this was all even more well-known to me through friends of Nureyev by about 1973 onward in a good bit of detail, and even before that people talked about it. I haven't read these articles, and don't see Nureyev especially as a 'sociopath' or 'psychopath' even if all or most of the details written about his sex life are true. But I see little reason to expect new documents on any famous people to be discreet and tasteful, that's not what they're about, they're about selling to current tastes for gossip, of course.

On the other hand, things like Norman Mailer's 'Portrait of Picasso as a Young Artist' shows you a way of dealing with this kind of genius celebrity-artist that also does not cover up his faults. Picasso was clearly an incredibly selfish person in some of his actions even early on, and I haven't gotten to his middle and later years. What he did in terms of his cowardice in terms of Apollinaire is quite as reprehensible as possible. It is a peculiar contradiction that sometimes the greatest artists' ruthlessness may be what makes their particular art possible, it is all definitely a part of what goes into the art. It is possible to try to overlook this because of an artist's greatness, but this is more wishful IMO than anything else, because you don't find out the full range of what went into making this exceptional being. It is necessary to accept that one has to live with the uncomfortable, unresolved contradictions. Mind you, not that I think the contemporary way of explicating every single drop of sweat and cheap pop-song synthetic-romance baubles is admirable, but I don't take it as seriously as some do. Ultimately, the Mailer books on Monroe and Picasso are higher-toned versions of the same thing. It's probable that most of us involved in the Arts think that artists deserve some special privileges and immunity from intrusion. I often feel this, but do know it is pretty much unrealistic, simply because that immunity has been steadily eroding and anyone can get arrested for almost anything, much less gossipped about.

But I think the healthiest way to look at Nureyev's promiscuity is to see it as a part of his adventurous artistry: People going on endlessly about his 'animalism' and 'raw sensuality' didn't pull it out of nowhere; to say otherwise is only to repudiate something very fundamental about Nureyev's very character, but which is to me a mostly positive kind of energy, but this is often done with sex when it gets into some of the less conventional practices (I don't mean homosexuality so much as public sex and promiscuity--and these don't work at all outside very free zones). Now someone on this board mentioned, during that discussion of Simone Clarke and the BNP, that Nureyev had 'knowingly infected partners with HIV', but without any proof of this. If that part is true, then that is a different story, as no one can really expect such to be excusable. Personally, I don't believe that is probable, and don't think Nureyev would have done this. I asked a few people who might have known, and they agreed--however, I can't say that I know for sure about this. I do think that in the early 90s, people still were not as highly tuned to carefulness as they have steadily become over the years since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and that there are periods in which people are more careful vacillating with other periods of greater strictness.

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A reaction to the book extract from Julie Kavanagh's biography of Nureyev:

"Did Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn have an affair or didn't they?"

Reading this excerpt made me think about three things....

1. Should a biographer practice restraint with using the material they gather? I believe, yes.

I found the statements about Fonteyn's abilities as a lover quite disturbing. They are what you would expect to find in the tabloids rather than a scholarly work.

2. The key point for me is Ashton's statement:

When the choreographer Frederick Ashton and his Norfolk neighbour Keith

Money, the ballet writer, discussed the matter, each was "adamantly certain"

that nothing took place; and when questioned in his eighties, Ashton had not

changed his mind. "I don't think that he awakened in her any sexual thing.

You always love the person you dance with for that moment, and something

must emanate from you that communicates itself to the audience."

Surely a tremendous amount of excitement is generated during rehearsals and performances from moments of creative synergy. My feeling is that these two artists of consummate artistry had the ability to "flow", (using Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's word), together.

3. Did they sleep together?

Who really cares?

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