Helene

Julie Kavanagh's Nureyev Biography

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Having ordered the book when it came out, I still haven't read it, having made a deal with myself that I couldn't start another book until I finished the Duberman Lincoln Kirstein biography, which I fell asleep on nightly for six months, and Collapse, which I put down inexplicably. (I'm still working on the latter, enjoying every minute of it, as opposed to the torture of the Duberman bio and the awful image of Kirstein having sex with his brother.)

However, in the most recent "Ballet Review" (Winter 2007/2008), there is a review of the book by Paul Parish, which I enjoyed immensely.

A few couple of choice quotes,

"Every sentence is nuggeted, indigestible as a fruitcake."

"He wasn't Russian, he was a Tatar. He's Russian the way James Brown is American."

(Can I now skip the Nureyev bio now that braver people have done so and written about it eloquently and go straight to Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise?)

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Finished the book this weekend. Would NOT recommend it as a travel partner - much too heavy, too big to fit in briefcase with computer!

I did enjoy the book, yet I probably know so little about ballet compared to the rest of you. It was a good education and history lesson for me!

As for the discussions re sexuality, perhaps they are pertinent given the cause of his death, and the period of time his diagnosis came - it was (according to the book) very eary days in the awareness and treatment of HIV.

Regarding more practical matters such as readability (if that is in fact a word), as others have noted there is a incredible amount of detail. At times this was quite fascinating, at others frustrating as dates or times of year get fuzzy in some portions of the book. Trying to keep track of it all is a bit exhausting even with the best of intentions.

Since I live in Canada, I had hoped for a little more detail in the portions of the book relating to RN's association with the NBOC - no such luck. Clearly the impact of that association was greater for the Canadians than for RN and the trajectory of his life.

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(Can I now skip the Nureyev bio now that braver people have done so and written about it eloquently and go straight to Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise?)
I'm really enjoying, and learning from, the Ross book. But how about alternating the books, a chapter at a time. There really is a lot of interesting and informative material, even if you have to pick your way -- as Paul's metaphor suggests -- among the hard lumps of fruitcake.
Since I live in Canada, I had hoped for a little more detail in the portions of the book relating to RN's association with the NBOC - no such luck. Clearly the impact of that association was greater for the Canadians than for RN and the trajectory of his life.
I was surprised about this too. There is more attention to his Australian ventures, for instance. I wonder how the Canadian ballet community has responded to Kavanaugh's forgetfulness on this issue?

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The book is worth reading even if you don’t like it overall. There’s material in it that doesn’t appear elsewhere, Kavanagh spoke to people who haven’t talked publicly before (although not all of that material is useful) and I can’t imagine not dipping into it if you’re interested in Nureyev or ballet.

Perhaps she didn’t spend as much time on the Canadians as she might have, but they weren’t ‘forgotten’ by any means.

Nureyev had a public persona of being a sexy guy in the sexually liberated 60's, and he got rich and famous from it.

Well, he couldn’t help being as attractive as he was. Indeed, Nureyev could have cultivated such a persona more than he did. Baryshnikov’s reputation as a womanizer did influence his image onstage and off -- it’s exploited very consciously in Dancers and The Turning Point (and even Sex and the City), presumably with Baryshnikov's cooperation --even if he wasn’t as sexy as Nureyev onstage. There’s already more than one account in print of Baryshnikov in bed, Twyla Tharp’s, for one, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there are eventually more.

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Nureyev inspired sex in his audiences, so people are really interested to note that the panther-like, sexual stage persona -- as opposed to a strictly virile one, like Vasiliev -- didn't transfer to real life. That was in great contrast to Baryshnikov.

I don't understand this at all, unless it has to do with these biographies which I haven't read. How didn't it 'transfer to real life'? How it was shaped and executed and was maybe extremely neurotic is one thing--and in its fashionable promiscuity it does surely fit most definitions of that term after the 70s, when it was still being accommodated and even envied in various vacuous ways--but there was certainly a lot of energy behind it, making it virile. That he had specific tastes and took 'sexual roles not smiled upon by sexual establishments going back to the ancient Greeks' doesn't really change that hyper-enthusiasm and somewhat out-of-control libido, does it? He is well-known to have 'choreographed' and directed many of the episodes, excluding much of the usual spontaneity.

As for 'importance of whether the sex was mechanical', it's just as important as any other aspect of the personality that one can get one's hands on. Otherwise, don't focus on the person him/herself, but only on the work. If there is more, it's all fair game at this point, whether or not tasteless (which is up to the discretion of the researcher and/or writer.) There are a few dancers even lesser-known to the general public than Farrell, Fracci and Alonso, about whose sex lives I know something--but don't know all of it. I'd like to (mildly), but will not feel deprived if I don't know it, and don't imagine I'll be running into the people who might know the answer. Actually, there are some here, but I'd never ask them, and imagine the bf's one description made me by the person--'he's Czech'--most likely answered the question satisfactorily enough for me to decide that this is a probability that I may mention to my best friends only.

Of the ones mentioned, I've never thought of their sex lives much, although have wondered why, if Paul Mejia was such an important figure in the early 70s soap opera, why he and Farrell divorced. I don't know whether this is top-secret material, nor whether it would appear in an upcoming book that someone mentioned (I doubt it. I don't recall that her book even mentioned what ultimately happened to her father, but it may have.) I thought the sex episodes I read in 'Dancing on my Grave' were of minor interest, and that Gelsey was right to refer to them as 'Modern Romance', in an amusing reference to the old magazine.

Sex is definitely the 'other bottom line', so that people either keep it concealed or people find out--whether it's in a book or not doesn't much matter, as far as I am concerned. At least in Nureyev's case, because his was hardly a big secret, nor did he want it to be.

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The Society for Theatre Research announced Julie Kavanaugh's biography of Nureyev as one of five shortlisted theatre books for the annual Theatre Book Prize. Alas, it didn't win (the prize was given to Michael Billington's amazing book on the last 30 years of British theatre), but it was a hot favourite. You can read what the judges thought about the five shortlisted books on the Society for THeatre Research website.

Mods: not sure if I can post the link, but will if it's permtted.

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I love this book. I'm new to the ballet worlds of history and everything else ballet encompasses, and I just want to say that as an uninformed reader i was blown away. The style is lively and compelling and the research seems massive. I was stunned to realise how even great stars continue to work on their technique. Aside from the rich learning experience re ballet there are two BIG learning( or reminder) tropes. One is how freedom is such a fragile thing, threatened by apparachiks and neo cons or any life haters and the other is how open to emotion and love those people with too few skins such as Eric B., can be. A reminder to have compassion for people who feel too much.

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A reminder to have compassion for people who feel too much.
Thanks for that thought, whetherwax.

Also, I just noticed that we never responded to redbookish's kind offer to post the comments of the judges concerning the short-listed books. Please accept our apologies. Here's the Link:

http://www.str.org.uk/

When you get there, just click the "Theatre Book Prize" link (Act 5, scene 2 on the home page). Very interesting indeed. Thanks, redbookish.

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Aside from the rich learning experience re ballet there are two BIG learning( or reminder) tropes. One is how freedom is such a fragile thing, threatened by apparachiks and neo cons or any life haters and the other is how open to emotion and love those people with too few skins such as Eric B., can be. A reminder to have compassion for people who feel too much.

If you are enjoying this biography you might also like to read To Dance by Valery Panov. (There are some second hand copies available in Australia on AbeBooks.com.) He was pulled out of a tour to the US when they got to San Francisco. This was in 1959 and Panov was 21. After years of discrimination and eventually total ostracism (including fear for his life) he and his wife were allowed to leave for Israel in 1974.

Nureyev apparently visited Panov shortly before the Kirov tour to Paris/London and asked Panov what had really happened to Panov in America and wanted to know how he was treated when he returned to Russia.

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I started the bio last week and finished it this weekend. I thought it was poorly written, particularly the first half. I spent too much energy trying to decipher what Kavanagh was trying to say, to re-order her paragraphs, and to wonder whether the book had an editor.

Of the people who were described at any length in the book, there are few I'd want to know: Alexander Pushkin, Nureyev's childhood friends Liuba and Leonid, and Stanley Williams are among them, although the latter is described in terms of work, not personality. Jane Hermann comes across as an interesting person as well. However, Kavanagh did write repeatedly that he transformed companies and dancers with whom Nureyev worked, and she made it perfectly understandable why a dancer would want his attention. Off the stage, not so much, but that may have to do with the contempt he showed almost all of the people he let in, especially the women. "The Life" that was interesting to me was the relationship between him and the other dancers in the studio, and that, unfortunately, would require a different kind of author, if it is conveyable through words at all.

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One thing I did forget: there's a photo in the last photo section that I think is the most wonderful photo of Nureyev of all I've seen: taken by Alexandra della Porta Rodiani, it shows Nureyev at the end of his life in full conductor's garb with baton on a lawn with trees blurred in the background. He looks relaxed and happy and his smile is spectacular. Definitely a candid shot, with his mouth partly open.

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One thing I did forget: there's a photo in the last photo section that I think is the most wonderful photo of Nureyev of all I've seen: taken by Alexandra della Porta Rodiani, it shows Nureyev at the end of his life in full conductor's garb with baton on a lawn with trees blurred in the background. He looks relaxed and happy and his smile is spectacular. Definitely a candid shot, with his mouth partly open.

:DEAR HELENE

When I took the picture Rudy was really happy....We had great times together...

Alexandra della Porat Rodiani

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JK obviously didn't like or respect Rudolf. Just another writer obsessed with his private sex life. It was salacious and rude.

The Rudi I knew was always kind, warm, very funny, and generous (that will surprise a few people!). It seems that she didn't want to include good, positive memories of him.

I was appalled that JK included so many details of Rudi's horrific illness and suffering. It is none of our business. Shame on those people who provided the information. And, whatever happened to patient/doctor confidentiality? Also, it was shocking that she had the heartless audacity to ridicule the physical appearance of a dying man.

And, to think that Rudi's money, via his Foundations, paid for the research of this authorized book.

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One thing I did forget: there's a photo in the last photo section that I think is the most wonderful photo of Nureyev of all I've seen: taken by Alexandra della Porta Rodiani, it shows Nureyev at the end of his life in full conductor's garb with baton on a lawn with trees blurred in the background. He looks relaxed and happy and his smile is spectacular. Definitely a candid shot, with his mouth partly open.

:DEAR HELENE

When I took the picture Rudy was really happy....We had great times together...

Alexandra della Porat Rodiani

I am thrilled that you responded to Helene. The picture of Rudolf is beautiful. It is a wonderful memory of your friendship. Thank you so much for sharing the photo with us. It helps to ease the pain of losing him.

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Just finished my copy last night - I must say I mainly enjoyed it. I have not read Kavanagh's books before, but she seems to write with little emotion and just sort of lays the facts and stories out one after another. I read Percival's book "Theatre in my Blood" on John Cranko and appreciated getting the stories mixed in with some interpretation and feelings in regards to how this shaped the choreographer's life, future and reputation.

Regardless, I wish she had dived into some of his history performing with the Boston Ballet. There is some mention with Kenneth Grave about it and Marie-Christine Mouis, but other than that not much... When I started at BBSchool, I remember so much emphasis on the fact that he had affiliations and danced there as well. In Column McCain's Book "Dancer' I think it goes more into this very brief section of his life.

But for someone who wants stories and the gossips - it is a good book. But I can understand the sensitivities to this kind of stuff as well. For instance I was not so crazy about some of the detailed sexual situations - but some people might say this is what makes it a good book. Nevertheless it manages to inspire to some degree me as most biographies do. I'd give it a B+ / A-.

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On the whole, I've been one of the defenders of the Kavanagh book on this thread. But I also know that -- amidst all the detail and commentary -- there was something troubling, something possibly a bit mean-spirited and overly negative.

An antidote for me was Nureyev: Aspects of the Dancer by John Percival which I have just read. I realize this book was done while Nureyev was alive, was read by Nureyev before publication and was written before Nureyev became ill (with the psychological and physical implications of that).

However, Percival's writing brings alive the excitement at seeing Nureyev dance. And one is left with respect for - and in awe of - Nureyev's total involvement with his art. The chapter I will treasure was the chapter called Close-ups which describes Nureyev at work.

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Innopac, thank you so much for endorsing John Percival's wonderful book, it is indeed an absorbing read and I think that together with the books by Clive Barnes, Alexander Bland and Horst Koegler, which were all written during Nureyev's lifetime, that book stands apart because of the understanding and enthusiasm shown towards the man and his dancing.

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JK obviously didn't like or respect Rudolf. Just another writer obsessed with his private sex life. It was salacious and rude.

It sometimes happens that a biographer winds up not liking and/or respecting her subject very much, and that may well have happened to Kavanagh. However, in many respects Nureyev simply wasn't a very appealing man personally despite some fine qualities, and it wouldn't surprise me if a biographer found that ultimately the cons outnumbered the pros. Such a conclusion, if reached, can be fair comment and not necessarily an attack or hit job.

Contemporary biographies in general often have Too Much Information in the bedroom department, but I didn't find all of those details irrelevant or salacious, either. I preferred the Solway book overall as a full biography but if you're seriously interested in Nureyev you do have to read Kavanagh, too.

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Contemporary biographies in general often have Too Much Information in the bedroom department, but I didn't find all of those details irrelevant or salacious, either. I preferred the Solway book overall as a full biography but if you're seriously interested in Nureyev you do have to read Kavanagh, too.

I thought the Kavanagh's bio got bogged down in too much detail, not just TMI on the bedroom stuff. Lots of detail, more than I wanted on dinners, menus

etc.

All that being said, I was amazed at how vivid some of her recreations were. I was just starting with ballet as a teenage in the late 60s. I was a backstage fan, the whole thing. And that scene was just amazing. The stage door atmosphere was electric, there was a sort of group hysteria floating around waiting for Fonteyn and Nureyev to leave the Met at the stage door. Kavanagh captures that very vividly, it brought it all back to me, even Louis Perez hawking his photos.

So maybe some of the other scenes where also faithful recreations. But taken as a whole, it just seemed like too much detail to me.

I agree that maybe Kavanagh maybe ended up not liking Nureyev all that much. One of the risks I guess.

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JK obviously didn't like or respect Rudolf. Just another writer obsessed with his private sex life. It was salacious and rude.

It sometimes happens that a biographer winds up not liking and/or respecting her subject very much, and that may well have happened to Kavanagh. However, in many respects Nureyev simply wasn't a very appealing man personally despite some fine qualities, and it wouldn't surprise me if a biographer found that ultimately the cons outnumbered the pros. Such a conclusion, if reached, can be fair comment and not necessarily an attack or hit job.

Contemporary biographies in general often have Too Much Information in the bedroom department, but I didn't find all of those details irrelevant or salacious, either. I preferred the Solway book overall as a full biography but if you're seriously interested in Nureyev you do have to read Kavanagh, too.

I agree that some biographers often grow to dislike their subject, although good ones retain their objectivity. I believe that JK disliked Rudi before she began her task, what with her husband's mean-spirited documentary about Rudi, on British tv, a few years after his death; and her admission, in a British paper, that she had only interviewed him a couple of times - first time, fine; 2nd time, not so good. Rudi was going through the POB contract dispute at the time and was pre-occupied and quiet, and that she didn't really care that much about him.

I also prefer Solway's book, of the two. There are many others I really like, though.

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