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Julie Kavanagh's Nureyev Biography


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#46 dirac

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Posted 02 October 2007 - 03:22 PM

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?

#47 carbro

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Posted 05 October 2007 - 09:02 AM

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

#48 4mrdncr

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Posted 05 October 2007 - 10:56 AM

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.

#49 Herman Stevens

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Posted 07 October 2007 - 02:20 AM

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.hermanste...ictie.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.

#50 Ray

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Posted 07 October 2007 - 07:08 AM

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.

#51 Herman Stevens

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Posted 10 October 2007 - 12:37 AM

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.


Well, I think Kavanagh does a good job in that she isn't "unpacking" it too much. At first it looks as if she thinks nothing out of the ordinary is going on (which is probably true, considering the era we're talking about). Only later in the biography does she explicitly say something about this critic / intimate friend collusion. Perhaps you would like the other way around, and have her raise the red flag immediately; however often it works far better if the writer hands the reader the material and lets him / her draw the conclusions first. This is a rather thankless strategy, since a significant number of readers will think they're smarter than the writer.

BTW returning to the TMS discussion ("is there Too Much Sex in the book?"), I couldn't help but notice there is yet another thing Richard Buckle's Nijinski and Kavanagh's Nureyev have in common, in that both books inform us about the size of the subject's genitalia at some point. All on hearsay, of course. I wonder if this is a standard issue in bankers' of politicians' biographies, too.

http://www.hermanste...ictie.asp?Id=62

#52 papeetepatrick

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Posted 10 October 2007 - 06:52 AM

I couldn't help but notice there is yet another thing Richard Buckle's Nijinski and Kavanagh's Nureyev have in common, in that both books inform us about the size of the subject's genitalia at some point. All on hearsay, of course.


Not entirely, unless she didn't see the well-known photo of Nureyev many of us did in the early 70s (I don't know about Nijinsky.).

I wonder if this is a standard issue in bankers' of politicians' biographies, too.


Probably only if they are going to get impeached for it.

#53 Ray

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Posted 10 October 2007 - 07:20 AM

Well, I think Kavanagh does a good job in that she isn't "unpacking" it too much. At first it looks as if she thinks nothing out of the ordinary is going on (which is probably true, considering the era we're talking about). Only later in the biography does she explicitly say something about this critic / intimate friend collusion. Perhaps you would like the other way around, and have her raise the red flag immediately; however often it works far better if the writer hands the reader the material and lets him / her draw the conclusions first. This is a rather thankless strategy, since a significant number of readers will think they're smarter than the writer.


I guess I'm old school: the author's thesis should come first, followed by the support. I want a roadmap of what I'm going to read, esp. if I have to slog through mounds of primary source evidence, even if it's juicy stuff. And I can still draw my own conclusions, I hope!

#54 canbelto

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 05:34 PM

I'm reading it right now and can't put it down. I've gone through over 200 pages in less than 24 hours. I think this will be the definitive biography. I particularly like Kavanagh's painstakingly researched account of the Russian years, and the letters from Bruhn to Nureyev. Authors had always spoken about the "love affair" but it never took shape for me until I started reading the biography. Lines like "Forgive me if I did not help enough. I hate to see you upset; it hurts you, and it hurts me" all of a sudden made their love very believable and human.
*And reading this book makes me, again, long for a biography about Bruhn.*

#55 bart

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Posted 19 October 2007 - 07:14 PM

My copy arrived. I've only had time to look at the pictures, many of which were entirely new to me. Fonteyn is astonishingly beautiful in the shots of her dancing with Nureyev. There's a magnificent 1967 photo of Nureyev's "famous legs"-- bare, muscular, veined, sculpted.

I want to second canbelto's wish for a detailed biography of Bruhn (especially Bruhn the artist). I was intrigued by Lupe Serrano's comments about dancing with Bruhn, which can be found in an interview/discussion with Kirk Peterson (Ballet Review, , Summer 2007).

Then Erik Bruhn came [to Ballet Theatre]. I danced a lot with him. It was wonderful. He was so beautiful, so pale, you felt inspired to do your very best. But he was also a bit of a hypochondriac. If he wasn't feeling a hundred percent, he just couldn't make himself dance. He was such a perfectionist, he felt obliged to do better than the past performances, so sometimes he would really be down. We would be posing berore the start of the Don Q pas de deux and he would say, "I hope you're 'on' because I don't think I'm going to be much help to you today. And he would grunt on the first lift. So on the one hand you were inspired to do you very cleanest, purest, best dancing. On the oyther hand, he could be a little down on himself, which is hard to ignore.

Serrano has some interesting comments about dancing with Nureyev, too.

#56 Natalia

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Posted 22 October 2007 - 10:00 AM

I, too, have been plowing through this fascinating tome, though not as quickly as has canbelto! I've made it as far as 1963 - about page 250. First thoughts: very detailed, thoroughly researched but not the smoothest of reads, even though most of the notes are in the back. It's a give-and-take of scholarliness versus readability, isn't it? With a subject like Nureyev, even the most lumbering sections maintain interest.

I'm only on page 250 and how many lovers has he had??? :cool:

Seriously, there are a lot of eye-opening details here. For example, I almost fell out of my chair last night while reading the part about the NYTimes' critic, John Martin, being in cahoots with Lincoln Kirstein to prevent Nuruyev from joining NYCB, so as to not jeopardize the company's planned 1962 tour to the USSR. Martin seems to have been America's 'unofficial cultural ambassador' to the USSR...thus explaining his poo-pooing of Nureyev's talents during the early years.

#57 Herman Stevens

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Posted 25 October 2007 - 08:17 AM

For example, I almost fell out of my chair last night while reading the part about the NYTimes' critic, John Martin, being in cahoots with Lincoln Kirstein to prevent Nuruyev from joining NYCB, so as to not jeopardize the company's planned 1962 tour to the USSR. Martin seems to have been America's 'unofficial cultural ambassador' to the USSR...thus explaining his poo-pooing of Nureyev's talents during the early years.


So did I. If you consider that John Martin had previously been the NYCB's nemesis, it's doubly outrageous.

BTW as far as I'm concerned Kavanagh's biggest blooper occurs early on when she mentions Yakov Flier and misidentifies him as a violinist who won the Tchaikovsky Competition. Flier was, obviously, a pianist.

#58 Natalia

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Posted 25 October 2007 - 09:46 AM

Herman, Kavanagh has a number of bloopers related to facts about the 1950s/Leningrad but I think that it is balanced-off by the wonderful service that she has provided in helping to fill-the-gap on Nureyev's pre-defection career for non-Russian-language readers. Up to now, the best tome on RN's early years was a ca-1995 book that I bought in St Petersburg titled "Three Years on the Stage of the Kirov Theater" with the recollections of many of the friends, admirers and colleagues who were later interviewed by Kavanagh for her book.

Another interesting nugget: It's amazing how much contempt 1960s Kirov principal Sergei Vikulov seems to have had for RN. This shows up in the book even more clearly than it did in the recent PBS documentary. The irony is that Vikulov was one of the up-and-coming male dancers who most benefited from the departure of Nureyev in 1961, taking over many of RN's roles. :bow:

Well, I've made it too 1964...page 300 and counting...darn this work! Maybe I will finish the book by the holidays?

#59 canbelto

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Posted 25 October 2007 - 11:18 AM

My jaw dropped to the floor when I read that the 1958 Moscow Competition's winners were Rudolf Nureyev and Alla Sizova, but Yuri Soloviev, Ekaterina Maximova, Vladimir Vasiliev, and Natalia Makarova were also given gold medals. The 1950s had IMO maybe the greatest bumper crop of Russian dancers since the early 1900s, when no-namers like Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky graced the MT stage ... :bow:

#60 dirac

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Posted 25 October 2007 - 01:12 PM

Herman, Kavanagh has a number of bloopers related to facts about the 1950s/Leningrad but I think that it is balanced-off by the wonderful service that she has provided in helping to fill-the-gap on Nureyev's pre-defection career for non-Russian-language readers. Up to now, the best tome on RN's early years was a ca-1995 book that I bought in St Petersburg titled "Three Years on the Stage of the Kirov Theater" with the recollections of many of the friends, admirers and colleagues who were later interviewed by Kavanagh for her book.


Thank you, Natalia. Did any boo-boos stand out for you in particular?

I'm enjoying the reports of those who've posted so far. Please keep reading and posting. :)


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