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Book Review: The Dancer Who Flew: A Memoir of Rudolf Nureyev
by Linda Maybarduk
Tundra, McClelland and Stewart

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 28 March 2001 - " For me, dance and life are one. I will dance to the last drop of blood. "
Rudolf Nureyev

On the last page of her book, The Dancer who Flew , Linda Maybarduk, a former soloist with National Ballet of Canada, gives special thanks to her husband, Bill Alguire, whose advice to her was to "start writing, write from the heart, and the rest would take care of itself ".

The result is a very remarkable biography of the world's greatest romantic classical dancer, where the only 'error' was committed by Tundra, McClelland and Stewart, who published it in their Young Readers Division. It is a book which defies categorisation, being of great interest to dance-lovers of all ages, as well as those who admired Nureyev.

I appreciated it for the same reasons I liked the Russian book, * Rudolf Nureyev: Three years in the Kirov Theatre . Both works were written by people who obviously cared about Nureyev, and knew him well on several levels ; as a friend, a fellow artist, and in the case of Maybarduk, as an adopted member of the family

She first met him in 1965, and has woven an enchanting portrait of the man who was neither an idolised god, nor the devil incarnate, an impossible task for anyone outside the dance world. Guided and inspired by her personal experience, she chose to write about what she knew, (which thankfully did not include the list of medicine he took, nor any lovers he might or might not have gone to bed with. ) She deals intelligently with infinitely more interesting aspects, including his impact as a dancer, a teacher and mentor, his passion for new forms of movement and the contribution he made to bridging the gap between classical ballet and contemporary dance.

In the early chapters, she draws heavily on Nureyev's own early autobiography, for which she thanks Alexander Bland (Nigel and Maude Gosling), supplementing this with her own souvenirs of him, which date back to when she was eleven. " I remember his kind and enthusiastic smile..... his long light brown hair was tousled and uncombed; it looked like a lion's mane and had the effect of softening the chiselled features of his face. "

As time went by, she explains how she and her husband and children became Rudolf's Toronto family , and tells many anecdotes portraying him as down to earth, sincere and overwhelmingly kind.

In 1972, she recalls being singled out to dance a pas de deux with him, and tells how Nureyev sensed her anxiety and squeezed her hand to reassure her. Generous to an excess in passing on his knowledge to those who wanted his help, he would think nothing of renting a whole restaurant and inviting everyone in the company he was touring with to dinner, and stories of the financial help given to others less fortunate abound . Over superb meals in his own home the conversation would jump from Russian to English, to French, German or Italian, and Rudolf would be conversing in all of them. She does not gloss over his less noble side, but in describing the Leningrad years, defends him by pointing out that " it was not that he deliberately set out to break the rules ; he simply paid no attention to them ". He charged through the Kirov's rules and traditions like a bull in a china shop, but only when they stood in the way of him dancing his best. She doesn't mince words, adding that any ballet company in the world would have punished a dancer as obstinate and difficult as Rudolf.

His death from AIDS is dealt with briefly but competently.

Illustrating her points are a series of carefully chosen and eloquent photographs, each of which adds something to the book. She has no need to develop any incidents at the Leningrad ballet school, for she has included a fascinating snapshot of Rudolf with his adored teacher, Pushkin, and Shelkov, his adversary, in which Nureyev's expression spits defiance and arrogance. Point made.

There are more than seventy black and white photographs from her own family album, as well as from the personal collections of people including Maude Gosling, Marika Besobrasova, the Jude family, the Nureyev family, Tessa Kennedy, as well as a phenomenal one of him truly " in flight ", amongst those donated by Tamara Zakrzhevskaya. Many are interesting because they've simply not been seen before.

The Dancer Who Flew is written with tenderness, honesty and warmth. All events have been put into their proper context, with the emphasis where it should be, reminding us that Nureyev's greatness is because he put the male dancer on an equal footing with the ballerina, and brought dance into the twentieth century. It is also a tribute to him, for she has possibly fulfilled a silent promise ; to talk about his art, and not his illness. She has succeeded in bringing her subject alive by providing a most refreshing read after all the exaggerated nonsense published for commercial reasons after the Russian dancer's death in January, 1993.



· *Rudolf Nureyev : Three years in the Kirov Theatre, a joint publication by " MOL " Ltd. And " PUSHKINSKY FOND " publishing house with the participation of DEAN+ADIA-M

· ** Nureyev: His Spectacular Early Years , first published in 1962, edited by Alexander Bland.Hodder and Stoughtons


The Dancer Who Flew: A Memoir of Rudolf Nureyev

The Dancer Who Flew : A Memoir of Rudolf Nureyev
by Linda Maybarduk
Illustrated. 184 pp. Toronto
Tundra, McClelland and Stewart $18.95



Related Articles: A Birthday Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev

Ressources: Hommage à Rudolf Noureev




Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance from Paris. She contributes to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com.



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