Helene

Julie Kavanagh's Nureyev Biography

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Imagine "Artists find it easy to produce their craft" vs. "Torture behind art--the real story behind the XXXXX ballet company" Now? Which sounds better to a drama hungry press?

This is a good point. Remember money is involved here in addition to publicity and the promoters of newspapers, films, magazines, performances, etc are

always looking for a "hook" to promote their wares.

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I think I have a biographer story that may have some things in common with Kavanagh's writings of Nureyev:

Noted American historian Grady McWhiney noticed that there had never been an academically sound biography written about American Civil War Confederate General Braxton Bragg. Being an established writer of good history, McWhiney wrote his publisher with a prospectus for the book, which he saw as being in two volumes. Upon acceptance, he set about writing the first volume of the work, where he discovered WHY there had never been a serious work written about Bragg. Even in death, the subject was disagreeable to the point of repulsiveness. McWhiney forced himself to finish the first volume, then posted a notice on the history department's bulletin board:

FREE!

FREE!

FREE!

BRAXTON BRAGG BIOGRAPHY SECOND VOLUME!

research mostly compiled - all you have to do is write it!

PUBLICATION ALREADY GUARANTEED!

BRAXTON BRAGG - I DON'T WANT HIM, YOU CAN HAVE HIM!

Contact Prof. McWhiney at extension xxx

An alert graduate student picked up the offer, and completed the job, although she found Bragg to be just as disgusting as McWhiney had. She praised McWhiney not only for his generosity in offering the subject, but for his fortitude in having plowed through the muck and mire of Bragg's career.

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dirac, I'm sorry it's taken me so long to reply. I'm rather over my head at the moment. I have a date with the acountant on Tuesday morning, nothing is ready for him, I'm working all day on Monday and have relatives visiting tomorrow!

So quickly, here are three points which I picked. They're not so much errors of actual fact but more a curious reading of circumstances (I don't have time to check the fine detail of other errors).

She states that when Tetley created Field Figures for the Royal Ballet he "excluded Rudolf from the cast.............". There could never have been any question of Nureyev being available for that ballet which was created for the newly formed "New Group" a replacement for the disbanded touring section of the company. Robbins was mounting Dances at a Gathering at the same time and had first pick of the available dancers. Robbins was rehearsing multiple potential casts - and there was in fact a stand off between the choreographers over one boy whom Robbins "might use" and Tetley definitely would and did. (The New Group was largely made up of dancers from the former touring section whom Michael Somes charmingly and publicly referred to as "touring trash".)

Re Manfred; Kavanagh states that the Palais des Sports remained half-empty. Well yes, there were empty seats to be seen. It's a large sports stadium and a temporary stage was erected in the middle of the arena. This meant that only a smallish proportion of the seats had any kind of view of the stage - the majority had none and therefore weren't on sale. I was in France on business at the time so I went on three or four occasions (the rest of the programme was quite good I recall) and although there were some empty seats it was a pretty full house, especially when Nureyev got back on stage. As an aside, I've never seen so many mink coats which were so obviously "this season's model". Very odd, especially in a dump which stank of ancient fried onions.

She also describes how Nureyev invited Fonteyn to appear with him at the Coliseum in his Diaghilev season "in two works" and goes on to describe "the ballerina hardly able to rise on point in Le Spectre de la Rose". Fonteyn was not listed to dance Spectre, simply the Nymph in Faune. She decided to go on in Spectre just before the Saturday matinee - who knows why. I didn't see it but my husband did. Seemingly she asked the stage manager who was about to go before the curtain to announce the change of cast exactly what he planned to say. The reply was something like "at this afternoon's performance of Spectre de la rose the part of the young girl will be danced by Margot Fonteyn". He was instructed by the lady to omit the word "young" and substitute "portrayed by" for "danced by". I gather she was lovely and the audience ecstatic, though he by then, was really past being able to cope with the technical demands of the role. She went on again in the evening and that was the last time she appeared on a British stage wearing pointe shoes.

I guess it's a question of the way you put things.........

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Thank you, Alymer, for these interesting and important corrections of tone and balance. I hope people from Fig Tree Press (the British publisher, a division of Penguin) and Pantheon (the U.S. publisher, a division of Random House) are paying attention and taking notes.

For our members who want to turn to the relevant sections, here are the page numbers (U.S. edition):

-- Gen Tetley, Field Figures for Royal Ballet, 1970, pp. 434-35

-- Nureyev performance of his own Manfred, Palais des Sports, 1979, p. 529

-- Margot Fonteyn's performance of Spectre de la Rose, 1979, p. 520

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Oh dear. Once you start you can't stop. On page 563 there is a reference to Carolyn Carlson which describes her as dancing with the Ailey company. Actually, she was one of Alwin Nikolais' dancers, though given that she had the whitest skin imanginable and the palest blond hair, the thought is interesting.

Going on from there, the reason the 1950 Graham season in Paris was cancelled was because Graham injured herself seriously on the first night. It may have been disliked by Le Figaro, but that wasn't the reason for the curtailment of the season. (There's more of a story to that, but not for now.)

Kavanagh says that Paris audiences had little experience of modern dance. Well, off the top of my head they had certainly seen Cunningham, Nikolais (who had a big success) and Taylor. In addition, while the country didn't have the host of post modern choreographers it now enjoys, there was Ballet-Theatre Contemporain based first in Amiens and then at Angers. That company's policy was to dance nothing created before the 20th century, with a large proportion of creations. In addition to works made by french choroegraphers, they had ballets created by Louis Falco and Lar Lubovitch and they toured widely.

Plus, there was a significant and continuous programme of modern dance at the Theatre de la Ville in Paris with companies such as Netherlands Dans Theatre.

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Thank you for taking the time to post, Alymer. It’s appreciated by all of us. Your points about modern dance performances in Paris and the Tetley ballet are especially well taken, but all of these matters are worth raising.

I guess it's a question of the way you put things.........

True. It may very well be that Fonteyn also had difficulty getting through Le Spectre – it’s a question of emphasis (and who Kavanagh talked to about the performance, I’m assuming she didn’t see it).

(The New Group was largely made up of dancers from the former touring section whom Michael Somes charmingly and publicly referred to as "touring trash".)

Thanks for sharing that tidbit. What a lovely thing to say. :angel_not:

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Roger Federer--seriously, the guy makes tennis an art form...I believe my beloved former dance teacher said that he was the one athlete that made his sport as artistic as ballet.

The man even stumbles gracefully. He's supposed to look awkward or clumsy every once in awhile, but I guess the space aliens who sent him here forgot to mention that.

But I did mean it in the sense that in a way, as he started out with nothing and seemed to want everything, it was as though it didn't seem to occur to him that there was a point at which that wasn't always the way to go in some things in life, professionally or personally.

I do see what you mean, Mme. Hermine. Nureyev didn't always know where to stop - but then, if he'd been the kind of man who did, he probably wouldn't have flouted the Kirov authorities so boldly during that Paris engagement (to take only one example), wouldn't have been ordered back home, wouldn't have defected, etc., and the history of ballet might have been quite different.

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I saw Charlie Rose's half-hour with Kavanagh, Joan Acocella, Robert Gotlieb, and Georgina Parkinson. (Thanks, rg, for the Heads Up! on this.)

There was nothing new for those of use who've read the book and discussed it here. But it's certainly wonderful to see 4 such informed and interresting people being allowed by American television to discuss ... ballet! :) Rose honors his audience by assuming a certain level of knowledge and interest. This results in surprisingly high level discussion.

Among the insights that struck me:

Gotlieb:"We never saw [Nijinksy] in decline. It was there, and then it was over." This was not the case with Nureyev, who played out his long decline as a dancer in front of large audiences and over a long period of time.

Parkinson, on Nureyev's arrival at the Royal Ballet: "We'd never seen dancing on that level." On Nureyev's "hunger for life": "When he came to the West he was like a hungry animal, absorbing, going, seeing, doing." And, no matter what he'd done the night before, he was in class working intensely the next day. Every day.

Baryshnikov (in a clip from an earlier interview with Rose): In Nureyev's early videos, you see "a very expressive dancer, but sloppy." Later, Nureyev became "a much more charismatic performer than I ever was on stage." "Astonishing ... [with] extraordinary charisma, charm, and beauty which was unmeasurable."

Acocella makes some interesting comparisons between Nureyev and Baryshnikov. To the suggestion that Nureyev was open to learning new kinds of dance (Graham, Cunningham, etc.), she says that Nureyev wanted to experience but would not stay to do waht was necessary to learn completely. He could not accept for long situations which he could not command. Graham and others, she implies, let Nureyev do pretty much what he wanted to do. Baryshnikov, on the other hand, seemed most happy in precisely those dance situations in which he had to strive to learn. It was when he had achieved all that he could that he tended to lose interest.

Did anyone else see this?

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For those who haven't seen it, you can still view it via Charlie Rose's website, and perhaps later on YouTube. For now, though, you can click -->here and scroll to Nov. 28.

I think you did a fine job, bart, of hitting most of the major points.

Parkinson, on Nureyev's arrival at the Royal Ballet: "We'd never seen dancing on that level." On Nureyev's "hunger for life": "When he came to the West he was like a hungry animal, absorbing, going, seeing, doing." And, no matter what he'd done the night before, he was in class working intensely the next day. Every day.
She seemed in awe that even on just 3-4 hours' of sleep after a night of heavy drinking, he could still take class and be completely there. :) I'd be awed, too.
Rose honors his audience by assuming a certain level of knowledge and interest. This results in surprisingly high level discussion.
My take is a bit different. I am always grateful when Rose's guest/s take(s) control of the interview, as these four did so well. :)

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I didn't see the show, and so was even more grateful for bart's summary. I wanted to comment on one thing:]

Acocella makes some interesting comparisons between Nureyev and Baryshnikov. To the suggestion that Nureyev was open to learning new kinds of dance (Graham, Cunningham, etc.), she says that Nureyev wanted to experience but would not stay to do waht was necessary to learn completely. He could not accept for long situations which he could not command. Graham and others, she implies, let Nureyev do pretty much what he wanted to do. Baryshnikov, on the other hand, seemed most happy in precisely those dance situations in which he had to strive to learn. It was when he had achieved all that he could that he tended to lose interest.

That was not the view at the time. It was rather the opposite. Baryshnikov's hunger to dance everything (which was totally understandable) made him "rush through the repertory like a kid in a candy store," as one critic wrote about his first seasons at ABT. He would do role after role once or twice, then move on. It was one of the issues that Kirkland (who wanted to rehearse everything A LOT) has mentioned. [editing to add: I think this may have changed as he matured, but his tenure with Graham was quite short, as I remember it. During the White Oak period, however, I remember reading and hearing that he was totally committed to that project and those works. Careers have different phases.]

As for Nureyev, Paul Taylor wrote that Nureyev would try out "Aureole" in the wings, years before he danced it. I also remember reading, at the time, how hard he worked with Graham and Murray Louis. [Editing to add: He worked with Graham over several seasons, dancing repertory roles as well as several creations.] And in his early years at the Royal Ballet, he would take small roles in new choreography, and work quite hard on them. Perhaps Alymer or John P (if they see this) might comment, since they were there.

Re Baryshnikov's comments about Nureyev, I did see that interview and was struck by his generosity towards his older schoolmate and rival. That interview with Baryshnikov is a treasure -- and it's now available on DVD at Amazon :)

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That was not the view at the time. It was rather the opposite. Baryshnikov's hunger to dance everything (which was totally understandable) made him "rush through the repertory like a kid in a candy store," as one critic wrote about his first seasons at ABT. He would do role after role once or twice, then move on. It was one of the issues that Kirkland (who wanted to rehearse everything A LOT) has mentioned. [editing to add: I think this may have changed as he matured, but his tenure with Graham was quite short, as I remember it. During the White Oak period, however, I remember reading and hearing that he was totally committed to that project and those works. Careers have different phases.]

As for Nureyev, Paul Taylor wrote that Nureyev would try out "Aureole" in the wings, years before he danced it. I also remember reading, at the time, how hard he worked with Graham and Murray Louis. [Editing to add: He worked with Graham over several seasons, dancing repertory roles as well as several creations.] And in his early years at the Royal Ballet, he would take small roles in new choreography, and work quite hard on them. Perhaps Alymer or John P (if they see this) might comment, since they were there.

What you write, Alexandra, is also what I have always read. Kavanagh's own version seems to suport it -- up to the point that Nureyev actually had to perform these works more than one or two times. It was here, she suggests, that his performances deteriorated.

Acocella appeared to take over from Kavanah as the "Nureyev expert" about half way through the program. Her statement was made in a tone which almost suggested: Everybody knew this about Nureyev at the time. The sounds made by others at the table seemed to be in agreement or at least accepting of Acocella's version.

Very odd.

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What you write, Alexandra, is also what I have always read. Kavanagh's own version seems to suport it -- up to the point that Nureyev actually had to perform these works more than one or two times. It was here, she suggests, that his performances deteriorated.

Now that, I find quite odd. I wonder if she saw him? I saw Nureyev over several Graham seasons, always the season, or at least a few months, after he'd first performed the role, and the performances were always consistent, to me. This was also what I remember was the general view in the press. The controversy was about whether he should be doing Graham, whether he had corrupted her into doing the fur coat ads, whether Graham should be in the Met, etc. -- and from many modern dance critics who felt that he was a terrible Graham dancer (others wrote that it was obvious why Graham chose to work with him, because he had the same "monstre sacre" nature that she did) -- but not losing interest or lack of consistency.

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Acocella makes some interesting comparisons between Re Baryshnikov's comments about Nureyev, I did see that interview and was struck by his generosity towards his older schoolmate and rival.

The generosity of Baryshnikov to Nureyev is very evident in Diane Solway's biography and the extensiveness of his testimony is one of the major assets of her very good book, in my opinion.

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Perceptive indeed, and so beautifully and vividly written! Thanks for posting the link, canbelto. I wonder if Ms. Bentley could be persuaded to write a biography of Balanchine? :bow:

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I thought the review really hit the nail on the head about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the biography. And I happen to agree with her that I'd rather have cut out some detail about Nureyev;s sexual conquests and put in its place a talk about Nureyev's appearance on the Muppet Show, especially his duet with Miss Piggy. It's one of my favorite videos! :bow:

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Ah yes, "Swine Lake". Actually, there was a good bit of controversy over whether he danced with Miss Piggy or an unnamed "pig ballerina", because it had never (to that date) been positively established that Miss Piggy had legs! If I recall correctly, the "pig ballerina" was a whole-body muppet (like Thog, Sweetums and the other giant muppets), and the dancer was a man from the RB corps, whose name I cannot locate. But RN definitely did do a duet with Piggy, "Baby, It's Cold Outside", in a steam room! Later, in the movie The Muppets Take Manhattan, we find that Piggy definitely has legs as she pedals her bike through Central Park!

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Ah yes, "Swine Lake". Actually, there was a good bit of controversy over whether he danced with Miss Piggy or an unnamed "pig ballerina", because it had never (to that date) been positively established that Miss Piggy had legs! If I recall correctly, the "pig ballerina" was a whole-body muppet (like Thog, Sweetums and the other giant muppets), and the dancer was a man from the RB corps, whose name I cannot locate. But RN definitely did do a duet with Piggy, "Baby, It's Cold Outside", in a steam room! Later, in the movie The Muppets Take Manhattan, we find that Piggy definitely has legs as she pedals her bike through Central Park!

Holy Maracas, it was Graham Fletcher! :bow:

And I agree, Toni Bentley's article was beautifully written.

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Thank you; that settles a "mindworm" that has bothered me for literal YEARS!

And yes, Bentley's review is a model of good criticism, with style, grace, and rigor!

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too bad the TIMES didn't let bentley help w/ the captioning of the illustrations.

that corbis foto of RN rehearsing APOLLO in his wool cap is a winner - i've never seen it before.

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For those who haven't seen it, you can still view it via Charlie Rose's website, and perhaps later on YouTube. For now, though, you can click -->here and scroll to Nov. 28.

Thanks carbro for telling us about viewing via the website! I just discovered several other interviews by searching on the word ballet (or dance) via the key word search.

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too bad the TIMES didn't let bentley help w/ the captioning of the illustrations.

that corbis foto of RN rehearsing APOLLO in his wool cap is a winner - i've never seen it before.

Yeah, great shot!

I haven't (yet) bought the book, but isn't the photo captioned properly there?

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The photo is not in my copy of Kavanagh's book. Nor is the larger 1960 photo of Nureyev in Leningrad. This photo is credited to PBS and BBC.

rg, can you give us a little background on the photo? Which Apollo -- i.e., where, when, and for whom? Kavanagh refers to several pirated productions in which he appeared, from Buenos Aires to Milan and Amsterdam.

"I came to London with the Dutch National Ballet and danced it at Sadler's Wells, and finally the Royal Ballet was forced to give me the role." (Rudolf's Covent Garden debut in Apollo on July 6, 1971, is considered to be one of his finest performances in the West.)
Kavanagh, p. 430.

Nureyev, with "Nureyev and Friends," performed for the first time at the Palais des Sports in 1971, and afterwards, according to Kavanagh. Isn't that a possible location? And isn't 1974 a possible date?

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i have no further ident. for this foto.

i just see that it's APOLLO b/c of the presence of Polyhimnia's scroll on the stage, behind Apollo, and because the costume is certainly that RN wore in performances seen hereabouts (white tights and gold lame sash).

he certainly danced the role in NYC w/ nureyev&friends.

one occasion was the '84 season of nureyev&friends at the gershwin th.

the rep. included:

Limón's Moor's pavane, Maurice Béjart's Songs of a wayfarer (Chant du compagnon errant), Pas de quatre, and Balanchine's Apollo.

this may or may not be the date/occasion of this reh. photo.

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Yes, it's the best article I've seen from Bentley in some time. Her last few efforts for the Book Review have been well off form.

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