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.