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France

Nureyev exhibition explores the myth

Latest update : 2009-05-17

France's National Centre for Stage Costume in Moulins, central France, has dedicated an exhibition to Russian-born dancer Rudolf Nureyev, telling the story of his spectacular career through a series of photos, films and over 100 costumes.

AFP - Even by the standard of today's celebrity-fuelled times Rudolf Nureyev was a phenomenon, a living legend, from his sensational 1961 defection to the West to his premature death from AIDS.
   
Sixteen years on, the National Centre for Stage Costume in central France has dedicated an exhibition to the myth, exploring his meteoric career as dancer and choreographer through photos, film and over 100 costumes.
   
For someone so famous, he was notoriously camera-shy. He refused to wear full costume even for a dress rehearsal, donning instead tights and leg warmers and his trademark woolly hats in an attempt to deter opportunistic photographers from taking a sly snap.
   
"He always said he hated pictures taken of him, but he did keep some for whatever reasons," explains Martine Kahane, who curated the exhibition.
   
"He had a pile of them in one of his apartments, which have been lent by the Rudolf Nureyev foundation, many of them never seen before in public."
   
As well as informal moments caught in his dressing room or practising at the barre, they include rare pictures of the family he left behind in Russia and of Alexander Pushkin, his dance master at the Kirov ballet.
   
They are presented in their original state, creased and dog-eared - "We insisted on no touching up," says Kahane. A photo of Nureyev dancing a highland fling in costume on the roof the Palais Garnier after he was appointed ballet director of the Paris Opera in 1983 is as gravity defying as it looks.
   
One of the most moving is a shot taken with a humble instamatic camera of Nurevey kissing the hand of Margot Fonteyn in their first performance together of Giselle at Covent Garden in February 1962. It launched them as the golden couple of ballet.
   
Someone born on a train crossing Siberia was destined to be nomadic: Nureyev was often photographed carrying suitcases. He once said: "I have no country. For me a country is just a place to dance."
   
There is a display case of some of his battered bags, opposite another containing pink satin point shoes wrapped in tissue paper bearing the names of some of the famous ballerinas he partnered.
   
Nureyev knew his body incredibly well and gave very precise instructions over his costumes, according to Kahane. "His doublets were always the same, with sleeves set very high to allow the arms maximum movement and a very narrow waist, usually ending in a point in front or behind."
   
The centre had to rework the tailor's dummies displaying the costumes to take account of the very different physique of dancers from fashion models.
   
The floor-sweeping cloak he wore for the role of Rothbart in Swan Lake had elastic strings hidden inside to allow him to lift the hem so that he could twirl without his feet getting caught up.
   
Nureyev was also a creature of habit. When Frederick Ashton created the ballet Marguerite and Armand for him and Fonteyn, he at first hated the tailcoat designed for him by Cecil Beaton for his role -- apparently because it was like the uniform worn by servants in the United States.
   
In the end though, he had it copied many times.
   
His attachment to some costumes is only too evident in their state of wear and tear. The green cotton harem pants he wore for the pas-de-deux in Le Corsaire, one of his bravura pieces, are a patchwork of mends. He wore them for every single performance of that role in his career, and although he had an identical pair made, they were never worn.
   
The costumes are grouped according to ballets - Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker, Giselle, La Bayadere and so on - enabling the visitor to compare different productions. They also include those of his other distinguished partners, such as Carla Fracci, lent by La Scala Milan.
   
Music from each ballet piped softly in each room adds to the atmosphere.
   
A slightly out-of-focus film of the Paris Opera corps de ballet, of which he was so proud, in Swan Lake is projected onto an entire wall, with a selection of frothy tutus. The first ballet he ever saw in his hometown Ufa, and which decided him on becoming a dancer, was a production of "Song of the Storks", a version of Swan Lake.
   
The centre is working with the Nureyev foundation to set up a permanent memorial to him, with its legacy of his personal effects, including furniture and his collection of kilim rugs - which inspired the monument on his grave in Paris.
   
The exhibition is open until the end of November and ballet lovers unable to make the pilgrimage can console themselves with the exhaustive catalogue.
   
 

Date created : 2009-05-17

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