Helene

Julie Kavanagh's Nureyev Biography

195 posts in this topic

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.

Going off topic, but what I think she meant to say was that although once they had been lovers of a sort, ultimately their connection was something quite other and beyond (although not necessarily superior, I don’t want to appear to denigrate sexual bonds, which can be as intense and meaningful as any other kind). Balanchine was certainly very interested in sex – that was, finally, the reason she had to leave the company when she did. I’m amazed and impressed that such a young and unworldly woman was able to resist the psychological pressure applied to her by her boss -- and her mother.

innopac, I agree, for the most part. Kavanagh probably got the line you quote in no. 1 from Meredith Daneman’s biography of Fonteyn, and it is regrettable that she elected to repeat it, when I should have thought that once was a good deal more than enough. However, if a given subject had a general reputation as a great lover, or the reverse, that is worth a mention – in moderation.

As for whether a writer should discuss whether Fonteyn and Nureyev had an affair -- yes, in a biography of either party that aims for completeness and is not solely artistic in focus that is a question that should addressed, even though it’s been hashed over repeatedly. The issue, for me, is how much space should be devoted to the matter (in my view, very little), and whose opinions are sought and quoted, and the biographer’s approach generally. Daneman went on for pages. I hope Kavanagh spares us that.

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Balanchine was certainly very interested in sex – that was, finally, the reason she had to leave the company when she did. I’m amazed and impressed that such a young and unworldly woman was able to resist the psychological pressure applied to her by her boss -- and her mother.

Yes, it's stunningly impressive, and one journalist described her later as having left NYCB 'with great eclat'. While it's actually sad in terms of Balanchine himself being unable to see this as he would later (and as she recounts in 'Elusive Muse'), I'm afraid I'm a little amused at the way she rebuffed her mother... Of course it's true what you say about Balanchine, I was basing some of this on things Maria Tallchief said about some of those areas of activity--I got the idea it was of more symbolic importance than in any way obsessive as uncontrollable libido (with Nureyev's appetites being the extreme of something like that), but others will know more about this than I do.

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Farrell was young and a practicing Catholic. She's said and written that this was an issue for her. She also said in Elusive Muse, that there were times when she was ready for a full relationship with him, but he was feeling guilty about Tanaquil Leclerq, and times when he was ready, and she was feeling guilty about Tanaquil Leclerq.

Also in Elusive Muse, she tries to explain that they got much physical gratification out of working together in the studio. She ends by saying, "It was great!" with the most wonderful smile. What productive sublimation! Freud would have been proud.

Tallchief has also said and written many times that Balanchine had chosen her as a key dancer for his new company, and has said several times that he wanted to be married her to keep her loyalty to him. Just like he said, "Don't be angry, save it for the work," I would think that this would apply to all other non-ballet-focused expenditures of energy and focus. Given how she struggled to balance her career with the passionate romantic life she had after her marriage to Balanchine ended, I would say that was good strategy.

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Farrell was young and a practicing Catholic. She's said and written that this was an issue for her. She also said in Elusive Muse, that there were times when she was ready for a full relationship with him, but he was feeling guilty about Tanaquil Leclerq, and times when he was ready, and she was feeling guilty about Tanaquil Leclerq.

Very true – but I wonder. I could be wrong about this but I think it wasn’t until her book came out that she began talking about her ‘amorous feelings’ for Balanchine, and in light of her quite normal interest in young men of her own age (the ‘Roger’ in her autobiography) – I wonder if she really felt a genuine physical attraction or if she’s mostly being tactful and protective of Balanchine. (The age difference and her religious affiliation wouldn’t necessarily have mattered, I think, if Farrell’s own character and psychology had been of a different stamp.)

Moving away a bit from what Mary Astor refers to in “ The Palm Beach Story” as Topic A, I was interested in this quote from the Times link:

Overnight she [Fonteyn] changed her mind: she would dance with Nureyev. She felt the alternative was to risk becoming “an absolute back number, a nothing.”...............Fonteyn decided to bet her professional future on Nureyev after a discussion with her husband, who had every reason to encourage her to prolong her stage career.

I hope that in the book itself there is a mention in this connection of the pivotal role of Ninette de Valois in the making of ballet’s most famous partnership. I saw no mention of her here.

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As far as I can tell halfway in, the Nureyev biography is much better than the Ashton book - especially in balancing the intimacy stuff.

The book is, like all biographies these days, way too long, but Kavanagh will set the standard in RN biography, I suspect.

I'll post a link when I write the review.

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Joan Acocella’s review appears in the October 8 issue of The New Yorker. She’s rather hard on Nureyev. I don’t mean to suggest he’s beyond criticism and we all have our preferences, but it’s quite a contrast to those Shiatsu massages she gives Baryshnikov in print.

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/book...?printable=true

In 1983, Nureyev undertook his last really big assignment: he became the artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet, the oldest ballet company in the world. He is widely credited with giving that proud, hidebound institution the shaking up that it needed. He hired teachers who had non-French training; he brought in modern-dance choreographers. In the process, however, he developed a bitterly antagonistic relationship with the company. Two of the modern-dance choreographers left without finishing their ballets, because the dancers refused to attend their rehearsals. Twice, the company threatened to strike. Usually, he met their complaints with defiance. When a veteran teacher, Michel Renault, objected to Nureyev’s interrupting his class to make corrections of his own, Nureyev broke his jaw. Renault sued and was awarded twenty-five hundred francs. “If I’d known it would be that little,” Nureyev said, “I’d have hit him a second time.”

Perhaps, to change anything whatsoever at the P.O.B., some breakage was required. But Nureyev was seldom able to mend things, because he was in Paris only half the year.

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Marc Haegeman did a series of interviews with French etoiles for DanceView over the past few years. Odd, if Nureyev's relationship was so antagonistic with the company that each of them spent a good chunk of their interviews explaining, in explicit detail, what they got from him, how much they admired him, etc.

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Alexandra, perhaps both versions are true, depending on the situation and on the individual dancers. Those who were young (and adaptable) when Nureyev arrived probably had a more favorable (or at least less jarring) experience than those who were committed to the old POB way of doing things. Those who impressed Nureyev by their abilties -- and, possibly, by malleability and cooperativeness -- also would have had an easier time. I'm thinking of the DanceView cover story on Laurent Hilaire, whom Nureyev made an etoile in the mid 80s.

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There was also the thinly veiled series of infomercials about POB productions, "Dancer's Dream." In the Raymonda version, Manuel Legris, a contemporary of Hilaire, who was heavily promoted as Hilaire's equal during the POB's NYC appearances, was less than impressed by Nureyev, which was shockingly negative given the "rah-rah" nature of the series.

I think it may have depended on the cost-benefit analysis of each dancer, much like stories of working with Jerome Robbins read: was the behavior worth it in the end to that dancer? Was there recognition of genius, and, if so, was it enough? To Armen Bali, Jane Hermann was too thin-skinned; clearly, to Jane Hermann, the answer was "no."

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Marc Haegeman did a series of interviews with French etoiles for DanceView over the past few years. Odd, if Nureyev's relationship was so antagonistic with the company that each of them spent a good chunk of their interviews explaining, in explicit detail, what they got from him, how much they admired him, etc.

I love this quote:

"I think about Rudolf all the time now," Legris concludes. "Everybody does. It is very strange how we all think so much about Rudolf, now. Every day someone remembers something else. `Oh, you know, Rudolf used to say that this step was . . .' His corrections, the things he tried to get us to do. I don't just mean that I think about him in rehearsal or when I see something that reminds me of him. I mean, when I am just sitting here. When I am by myself. Maybe putting on my makeup before a performance."

from Merchant Prince of Ballet by Otis Stuart

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By chance I came upon this article of January 25, 1962 from the New Yorker by the late Janet Flanner on Nureyev's defection.

It begins at a high temperature and gets ever hotter:

At Le Bourget airfield last June, Rudolf Nureyev, of the Leningrad Kirov Opera Ballet, escaped from the rest of the Soviet troupe, with whom he had appeared at the Opéra here. Paris ballet circles consider that in this defection Russia lost its most phenomenal young male dancer, and that the West gained the strangest, and uncontestably the most influential, personality—as well as the greatest technician—since Nijinsky

(Edited to correct the date of the article to 1962, as vrsfanatic says.)

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I believe the date is incorrect...January 25, 1962 might be more appropriate.

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Thanks for that piece, ViolinConcerto. What a discovery! :wink: Flanner would certainly have been reporting -- in her wonderful rococo manner -- what the Parisian social/intellectual/artistic classes saw and felt. I love the following:

In his curtain calls, he is disdainful of the delirious shouts and applause; he merely inclines, by an inch, that haughty head.
Note that disdain and hauteur are presented as positives. I suspect they were a big part of the allure that he exerted over audiences.

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Note that disdain and hauteur are presented as positives. I suspect they were a big part of the allure that he exerted over audiences.

Yes, there's a certain kind of 'total fan' who goes for this aspect. It's allowed at a certain tipping point of thralldom, so that a few performers like Nureyev and Garbo can pull this off after they've first applied the total joy of their own narcissism to themselves. After they have proved it to themselves, they can then use it as part of their public persona. I see this as perfectly normal if you can do it, or if it isn't normal, that's irrelevant. Some of the writing about these superstars is maybe a little embarassing, but that's because it's a few steps removed from the actual nakedness that only the most adept narcissist can deliver. Much better to go all the way with super-style like that, than part of the way like certain American politicians who think 'mild continental style' will make them look something other than weak.

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It's allowed at a certain tipping point of thralldom, so that a few performers like Nureyev and Garbo can pull this off after they've first applied the total joy of their own narcissism to themselves. After they have proved it to themselves, they can then use it as part of their public persona.
I love it! Talk about hitting the nail on the head about a certain category of "legend." (Remember the Blackgama mink coat ads?) Thanks, papeetepatrick, for that insight. :wink:

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Remember the Blackgama mink coat ads?
You can buy one of those posters now, on eBay -- the version where RN posed with Martha Graham and Margot Fonteyn -- for a mere $295.

Those were the days when a legend was a Legend. Today's "legends" include Cindy Crawford and Elle MacPherson. They may yet become legendary -- who knows? -- but are they now?

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Those were the days when a legend was a Legend. Today's "legends" include Cindy Crawford and Elle MacPherson. They may yet become legendary -- who knows? -- but are they now?

was.....Peter Martins a legend or a Legend? when, all of a sudden I turned over the cover of the New Yorker in the early 80s to find him dripping with fur? (carbro will hate this, but I couldn't resist. I myself wasn't quite sure that had been totally appropriate. Someone said, by way of explanation: 'The money...')

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Marc Haegeman did a series of interviews with French etoiles for DanceView over the past few years. Odd, if Nureyev's relationship was so antagonistic with the company that each of them spent a good chunk of their interviews explaining, in explicit detail, what they got from him, how much they admired him, etc.

I only hope there's a little more balance in the book.

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was.....Peter Martins a legend or a Legend? when, all of a sudden I turned over the cover of the New Yorker in the early 80s to find him dripping with fur? (carbro will hate this, but I couldn't resist. . . .)
No, carbro doesn't hate this. :wink:

At the time Martins was, I'd say, a Legend, but not (as were Graham, Fonteyn and Nureyev) a Legend.

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I do remember that particular ad. I've often wondered how many actual readers (even allowing for the fact that they were an affluent glossy magazine audience) were able to recognize some of the "legends" who appeared in that campaign.

Nureyev cultivated exposure all over, and people were fascinated with him for many reasons, not all of them having to do with dancing. .I'll bet he had remarkable recognition levels. Fewer would have been able to name Fonteyn and Graham, I imagine, but they did fairly well.

I can't imagine, however, that many people outside New York City and Copenhagen could have put a name to Martins. One quality of "legends"-- and it's even more true about Legends -- is that people generally know who they are.

I wonder who the genuine ballet "legends" (in terms of glamour, image, and name recognition) there are in the world today.

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The book is, like all biographies these days, way too long, but Kavanagh will set the standard in RN biography, I suspect.

I guess writers can't bear to leave out any of their research. With some bios I don't mind it - much depends on the writer (and my interest in the subject).

I agree, I think this will probably be the last word on Nureyev for some time. Has anyone begun reading the book yet?

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Author event:

Ms. Kavanagh will be discussing the book on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 7:30 pm.

Barnes & Noble at Lincoln Square.

1972 Broadway @ 66th St. (entrance also on Columbus Ave.)

Check with store to confirm: 212-595-6859

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I think this will probably be the last word on Nureyev for some time. Has anyone begun reading the book yet?

Not cover to cover yet, only spent 2hrs skimming thru various chapters while in a Borders in Islington, London. They had LOTS of copies, prominently displayed, but thought I'd wait to get back to the States (and hopefully better prices) before purchasing.

Much of what I read was contained in that recent PBS Great Perfs. broadcast as far as info, it just went into more, and more, and more detail. IMHO what did come through was the very indominatable will of it's subject, his insatiable quest for more...(fill in the blank), and a certain refusal to acknowledge obstacles or consequences--to good and bad effect.

As I said above, this was only my brief impression, from a very cursory read.

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Joan Acocella’s review appears in the October 8 issue of The New Yorker. She’s rather hard on Nureyev. I don’t mean to suggest he’s beyond criticism and we all have our preferences, but it’s quite a contrast to those Shiatsu massages she gives Baryshnikov in print.

I cannot help but think Acocella somehow falls into the trap of not liking a biography because she would not want to be its subject's friend.

This is a link to my review of Kavanagh's Nureyev biography:

http://www.hermanstevens.nl/result_non-fictie.asp?Id=62

One aspect of the book I didn't have any space for is the disconcerting collusion of journalist / critics and the dancer / company at the time. One cannot help but hope things have gotten a little better in the intervening decades

There's the strange case of Nigel Gosling, one of Nureyev closest London friends, who also happened to be a critic writing under the nom de plume Alexander Bland. Even Kavanagh has a hard time at some points in the book telling the two personae apart. In the USA there's the critic John Martin writing virtual love letters to Kirstein (of all people!), and a minor case is a Viennese critic who's sure she is the woman who can save Nureyev's life.

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One aspect of the book I didn't have any space for is the disconcerting collusion of journalist / critics and the dancer / company at the time. One cannot help but hope things have gotten a little better in the intervening decades

There's the strange case of Nigel Gosling, one of Nureyev closest London friends, who also happened to be a critic writing under the nom de plume Alexander Bland. Even Kavanagh has a hard time at some points in the book telling the two personae apart. In the USA there's the critic John Martin writing virtual love letters to Kirstein (of all people!), and a minor case is a Viennese critic who's sure she is the woman who can save Nureyev's life.

Do you think Kavanagh does a good job alerting us to this? In other words, is the collusion disconcerting in itself, or because JK can't "unpack" it? Do say more--yes, it certainly might be disconcerting on a local level (or for other reasons? say more if you can), but culturally it's a fascinating reflection of mid-century critical practices.

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