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Julie Kavanagh's Nureyev Biography


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#166 dirac

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Posted 04 February 2008 - 04:16 PM

I am puzzled why Henning Kronstam is not mentioned in the index of this book. Bruhn, Nureyev and Kronstam attended Volkova's classes etc -- surely Nureyev and Kronstam would have known each other at least on a professional level? I am wondering how they saw each other... if they had respect for each other... or if their approaches to ballet were too different.


I'm sure they must have known each other, but the ballet world is a small one. Probably the best reference would be Alexandra Tomalonis' biography of Kronstam. (I can't recall offhand any lengthy discussion of Nureyev in the book but it's been awhile since I've taken it off the shelf. The book is well worth the time in any case.)

#167 Alexandra

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Posted 04 February 2008 - 05:34 PM

There are a few stories about Nureyev in my biography of Kronstam. Frankly, I can't remember which I kept and which I tossed out. There were several rather nasty stories that I did not include. One that I really really really wanted to include was withdrawn by the person who told it to me (I think I can say it was about Nureyev's being jealous of Kronstam, told me by someone who discussed this with Nureyev).

I don't think they got on. Kronstam didn't interact with people generally, and he did say he didn't like Nureyev's way of tossing out steps. One story that I loved -- can't remember whether it's in the book or not. One ballerina told a story of Nureyev trying to change the choreography and being told (not by Kronstam) he might be able to get away with that in London but he wasn't going to get away with it in Copenhagen.

Kavanagh bypasses Copenhagen generally. Ashton spent a lot of time there, and had several close friends there, but they don't make it into "Secret Muses."

But everybody ignored Kronstam :) He didn't give interviews and was a very private man. The dancers talked about him and compared him to Nureyev -- generally quite favorably (better actor) -- but he's not mentioned except in passing in all but one of the books about The Great Male Dancers of Our Day.

#168 innopac

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Posted 04 February 2008 - 10:27 PM

There are a few stories about Nureyev in my biography of Kronstam. Frankly, I can't remember which I kept and which I tossed out. There were several rather nasty stories that I did not include. One that I really really really wanted to include was withdrawn by the person who told it to me (I think I can say it was about Nureyev's being jealous of Kronstam, told me by someone who discussed this with Nureyev).

I don't think they got on. Kronstam didn't interact with people generally, and he did say he didn't like Nureyev's way of tossing out steps. One story that I loved -- can't remember whether it's in the book or not. One ballerina told a story of Nureyev trying to change the choreography and being told (not by Kronstam) he might be able to get away with that in London but he wasn't going to get away with it in Copenhagen.

Kavanagh bypasses Copenhagen generally. Ashton spent a lot of time there, and had several close friends there, but they don't make it into "Secret Muses."

But everybody ignored Kronstam :) He didn't give interviews and was a very private man. The dancers talked about him and compared him to Nureyev -- generally quite favorably (better actor) -- but he's not mentioned except in passing in all but one of the books about The Great Male Dancers of Our Day.


Thank you for clarifying for me their relationship, Alexandra. It just seemed strange there is no mention of Kronstam, at least as far as I can see so far.

#169 canbelto

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Posted 17 February 2008 - 03:15 PM

One thing about the Kavanagh biography that is definitely inferior to the Solway bio is coverage of the Kirov Ballet in the late 1950s. The Kavanagh book does a better job with Nureyev's personal life in his Russian years, but Diane Solway paints a better picture of the Kirov during that time, which was just exploding with talent. For instance people like Alla Sizova, Irina Kolpakova, and Yuri Soloviev plays a prominent role in Solway's book, but are barely mentioned in Kavanagh's book. Odd.

#170 dirac

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Posted 20 February 2008 - 05:22 PM

I have a copy of the book and am dipping into it now. My first impression is that it’s written with Kavanagh’s customary fluidity and the first part of the book is superior to the second, where she tends to get bogged down with Rudi Went Here Then He Went There He Did This He Did That (Acknowledgments to Frank O’Hara. May not be entirely Kavanagh’s fault, either; it happened to the estimable Keith Money in his wonderful Pavlova bio, too. Perhaps it comes with the territory when you’re dealing with these compulsive performers always on the move). I don’t find her view to be ‘bitchy’ or mean-spirited, at least not so far. Nor do I think her discussion of Nureyev’s sex life dwells overmuch on the ‘sordid’ although we hear far too much detailed testimony from various parties concerning Nureyev’s deficiencies in the bedroom; Kavanagh could have saved herself and us a good deal of time by stating that many of his lovers found him to be mechanical in the sack and leaving it at that.

I note also that she gives Vera Volkova something like her due. Meredith Daneman in her Fonteyn bio didn’t ignore Volkova, exactly, but she did not accord her a capsule biography or a sufficient degree of emphasis, in my view. Alexandra Tomalonis in her biography of Henning Kronstam was the first, I believe, to give Volkova’s influence the attention it deserved, at least before the Volkova bio that came out not too long ago – but it was good to see Kavanagh’s discussion (don’t remember offhand what Diane Solway had to say in her book).

#171 redbookish

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Posted 23 March 2008 - 06:12 AM

Julia Kavanagh's biography has been shortlisted for the Society for Theatre Research Book Prize. It's on a shortlist of 5 out of over a hundred book entered this year. The awards ceremony is at Drury Lane on 1st April -- I'l lbe there & shall report results here.

#172 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 23 March 2008 - 07:36 AM

Kavanagh could have saved herself and us a good deal of time by stating that many of his lovers found him to be mechanical in the sack and leaving it at that.

Is it really essential to know about how "mechanical" in sex are our favorite artists...?, (Honestly, I've NEVER been a bit interested in knowing if some of my close friends, let along my dancing idols, males or females, are good or not under the sheets. I still think that she could have mentioned as many sexual partners as she wanted, if she was really convinced that by doing that she would sell more books, but still, she went too far with the "mechanical" thing.)

#173 dirac

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Posted 24 March 2008 - 11:29 AM

Is it really essential to know about how "mechanical" in sex are our favorite artists...?,


I take your meaning, but yes, I am interested -- up to a point. If a figure as sexually charismatic as Nureyev turns out to have little interest in pleasing his partners, I’d say that’s relevant information for a biographer. And I was very pleased to read in Meredith Daneman’s book that Margot Fonteyn had a varied and apparently satisfactory love life, something not true of some other famous ballerinas. I thought that was good news. On the other hand, Daneman rattled on for pages about whether or not F&N had sex together. I understand having to address the issue, but she went on far too long about it. To me, it's a matter of degree.

It's hard for me to imagine that Kavanagh decided in a very long book to include ten extra pages of Nureyev's sex life in lieu of the aftermath of his death.


I wonder if the Foundation had something to do with that. Kavanagh seems to have been working under its auspices, whereas Diane Solway was not.

#174 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 24 March 2008 - 12:00 PM

Is it really essential to know about how "mechanical" in sex are our favorite artists...?,


I take your meaning, but yes, I am interested -- up to a point.

Mmm...interesting, which leads me to wonder, (and ask you, if i may), if that statement only applies to the dead. What about on the others..? Are we still "interested" to know if certain living legends (Farrell, Fracci, Alonso, and so on) are sexually fitted or not...? What would be the difference...?

#175 Helene

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Posted 13 April 2008 - 10:39 PM

Is it really essential to know about how "mechanical" in sex are our favorite artists...?,


I take your meaning, but yes, I am interested -- up to a point.

Mmm...interesting, which leads me to wonder, (and ask you, if i may), if that statement only applies to the dead. What about on the others..? Are we still "interested" to know if certain living legends (Farrell, Fracci, Alonso, and so on) are sexually fitted or not...? What would be the difference...?

I don't think it's a matter of living or dead: I think that if a person bases his or her persona on an image, when the reality shatters that image, it's of interest. For example, when Howard Stern was role-playing the "bad guy" on his original radio show, but was said to live a typical suburban Long Island life, the contrast was notable. Nureyev had a public persona of being a sexy guy in the sexually liberated 60's, and he got rich and famous from it. It's been noted often that Nureyev's defection, culturally important at a crucial time in the Cold War, intersected with The Age of Celebrity in London, the beginning of the hands off media circus school of journalism, and I think it's a valid point to raise whether Nureyev would have been particularly rich or famous had he joined the Paris Opera Ballet, where after the initial propaganda died, he might be known only in the dance world.

Contrast Nureyev to Baryshnikov: Baryshnikov's defection was also quite noted, and he ended up in one of the world's media capitals. However, while he had a public persona as a ladies' man, between his relationship with Kirkland and especially after having "snagged" Jessica Lange, one of the few traditionally female sex symbols of her time and having a daughter with her, his stage persona was, if anything, detached. 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.

As far as Farrell, Alonso, Fracci go, few outside of ballet would have any interest, and the interest in Fonteyn outside of Great Britain and the rest of the ballet world would have been minimal without her partnership with Nureyev and the media frenzy that surrounded them.

#176 Helene

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Posted 13 April 2008 - 10:50 PM

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?)

#177 mom2

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Posted 14 April 2008 - 03:30 AM

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.

#178 bart

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Posted 14 April 2008 - 04:15 AM

(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?

#179 dirac

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Posted 14 April 2008 - 09:53 AM

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.

#180 papeetepatrick

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Posted 14 April 2008 - 10:01 AM

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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