Soviet dancer seeks asylum

By our own reporter
June 17, 1961

The Leningrad State Kirov Ballet Company arrived in London yesterday to open a four-week season in Covent Garden without Rudolf Nureyev, one of its main male dancers. According to a report by Reuters in Paris, he decided, as a plane was leaving with the other members of the company, to seek political asylum in France.

In London, company director Mr Korkin said through an interpreter that Nureyev had to return to Russia because his mother was not feeling well. He added that he only knew about Nureyev’s absence after the plane took off. He had not noticed any incident at Le Bourget airport, but had since received a message explaining it.

Reports from Paris indicate that Nureyev was approached in the departure lounge by two Russians who told him he had to return to Moscow. Nureyev asked for permission to say goodbye to his colleagues and the trio were joined by the ballet master, Mr. Constantin Segueev. A discussion followed. The rest of the company boarded the plane and Nureyev then rushed through the barrier where two French police inspectors were standing and shouted in English, “I want to be free.

He was taken to the police station and later, in the presence of the Soviet consul general and a Soviet embassy official, told the airport police that he had freely and voluntarily decided to stay in France. Soviet officials tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to change his mind and, “looking relaxed and cheerful”, he was taken to police headquarters in Paris where an official said his position would be “regularized”.
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The defection of a dancer

L’Observateur, June 18, 1961

Russian newspapers made no mention of Rudolf Nureyev, the brilliant young dancer of the Leningrad Kirov ballet who sought political asylum in France as his company was about to leave Paris for London.

He left Paris yesterday morning for an unknown destination, after the French authorities granted him permission to stay in France. Meanwhile, 30 members of the Kirov ballet visited the Golders Green Hippodrome last night to see the Royal Ballet perform Les Deux Pigeons. The business opens tomorrow in Covent Garden, but Nureyev wouldn’t have been needed until The Sleeping Beauty started on Friday.

An anglophile
Nureyev’s defection will deprive London – at least for now – of the chance to see one of the three or four best male dancers in the world. Even the Russian authorities describe him as “a great dancer with a bright future”. He was the sensation of the Parisian season of the company and will have danced several main roles in London.

Twenty-three, slim and fair, Nureyev has high cheekbones and slanted eyes that reveal his Tartar ancestry. But in his street clothes – pants and tight sweater – and his hair cut forward, he could be mistaken for an English art student. In fact, he speaks good English (but not a word of French) and was looking forward to his visit to London. Like others in the company, he is somewhat of an anglophile.

He is not a product of the Leningrad school. He started his career in a provincial amateur troupe and joined the Leningrad company only three years ago. Obviously, he does not fit too easily into the whole: he is criticized for having so far failed to learn “that the lead role is after all only part of the artistic ensemble to which even the most talented first dancer must subordinate his individuality.

Oddly enough, his style is very close to that associated with Leningrad (as opposed to Moscow), possessing striking elegance and authority. To this he adds superb technique and irresistible dramatic power.

He is one of those lucky people who just have to go on stage to order him. His surprising new take on the fairytale prince in Sleeping Beauty, with its whimsical wit and regal disdain, would be greatly appreciated by audiences in Covent Garden.

In Paris yesterday Serge Lifar said Nureyev’s decision to stay in France was “a disaster for the Leningrad ballet, of which he was the undisputed star.” Nureyev was recently awarded the Nijinsky Prize – the No. 1 prize for dance in the Soviet Union. Serge Golovine and he’s, in my opinion, the two best male dancers in the world, ”Lifar said.

Standing ovation for Nureyev

Paris, June 23, 1961

A crowded theater this evening gave Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev a standing ovation in his first appearance since seeking political asylum here last week. The audience cheered and applauded the special announcement at the start of the performance that he would appear as Prince Florimond in Sleeping Beauty given by the Fire Company Marquis of Cuevas. Special police patrolled the theater, but there were no incidents.

Rudolf Nureyev moves on

By Peter Lennon
January 31, 1962

Paris bade farewell to Rudolf Nureyev, the ballet Kirov dancer who, in a dramatic run to Le Bourget airport, parted ways with his Russian colleagues and sought asylum in France. As one might expect, having abruptly abandoned his home, his language, his friends and his familiar surroundings, he found that the new world he had immersed himself in did not automatically provide him with all the consolations he had felt. need.
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