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Nureyev: His Life Paperback – November, 1999

4.4 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

From the moment of his birth aboard a train speeding through Stalinist Russia, until his death of AIDS in 1993, Rudolf Nureyev seemed to travel through life at the velocity of a triple pirouette. His professional accomplishments are stunning. Despite starting his ballet training much later most dancers, Nureyev won a coveted spot at the famous Maryinsky (later the Kirov) ballet school in St. Petersburg and went on to become one of the company's favorite dancers. By the end of his first year in the West--in 1961 he became the first Soviet dancer to defect when he stayed in Paris after the rest of the Kirov returned to the U.S.S.R--he had performed with the major ballet companies in both Europe and the United States, and formed his legendary partnership with British dancer Dame Margot Fonteyn. He reinvigorated contemporary ballet, particularly the importance of male dancers, by energizing his favorite traditional roles with unrestrained sexuality and unparalleled technical virtuosity. His personal life was equally full. He carried on affairs with men and women alike--most notable among these was his intense, decades-long involvement with his professional idol Erik Bruhn and his penchant for sexy young call-boys. He hung out at Studio 54 and crisscrossed the Atlantic with his socialite friends, but he also made time to mentor talented young dancers, including Paris Opera Ballet star Sylvie Guillem.

Biographer Diane Solway, who wrote Dance Against Time, a biography of Joffrey Ballet dancer Edward Sterle, has produced an exhaustively comprehensive report on Nureyev's life. The book's most important accomplishment is that it succeeds in correcting many of the myths that still cloak the story of Nureyev's life--she credibly suggests, for instance, that his defection was not premeditated. The flamboyant dancer, known to wear jeweled jock straps, was responsible for propagating most of the stories that grew up around him. He published a ghostwritten autobiography rife with inaccuracies in the early '60s, and much of the information about his first 20 or so years in the Soviet Union has remained inaccessible until very recently. Solway traveled to Russia to piece together her subject's early life with recently declassified documents and interviews with his friends, family, and even a few detractors. She also drew from another rare book, Rudolf Nureyev: Three Years in the Kirov Theater. The result is a biography that objectively addresses the facts and fictions of an extraordinary life to create a vivid and balanced portrait. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A journalist who specializes in entertainment, Solway conducted more than 200 interviews to get the goods on one of the world's great dancers.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Quill (November 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688172202
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688172206
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,289,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Diane Solway has researched and written an altogether fascinating biography of Rudolf Nureyev, the dancer who changed classical ballet in the 20th century. He was born to a impoverished family in Russia and untimately died on his private island purchased with the millions he made during his dance career--a true-life rags-to-riches story. But it is so much more...
What a career Nureyev had! As a child he danced to provide an escape from the poverty of his youth. Almost forcing his way into Russian ballet schools, he astonished even his detractors by his grace and vitality. Solway recreates the scene of his defection from Russia in gripping detail. From that moment on, Russia's loss--which they tried hard to ignore, not even allowing Nureyev to see his mother until she was on her deathbed--became the West's priceless gain.
In the West this amazing young man turned into a human dynamo, insisting that contracts be written to allow him to dance every night rather than the customary once or twice a month. Solway follows his transatlantic crossings in dizzying detail as he dances one night in New York, the next night in Paris, and the following night at a festival in mid-Europe. He extended his career far beyond the usual span for a male dancer, eventually forming his own companies so that he could continue to perform. He insisted on learning the stylized awkward steps for modern ballet, and his name filled many houses for benefit performances with modern dance groups. He staged and choreographed many classical ballets, acted in motion pictures, and acted the part of the king in "The King and I" on stage. In his declining years, he learned conducting techinques, and led several European orchestras in concert programs.
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Format: Hardcover
With all the good reviews this work is receiving here, I feel that I must point out some of its short-comings. While the information in the book is exhaustive (sometimes to the point of seeming pretentious, as when Solway spends a footnote to provide the married name of an informant after having used her maiden name on the same page--why not just use the established convention of writing first, maiden, and last names?), the obvious research seems often tenuous. Solway's sources are frequently not identified; she writes numerous quotations without noting speakers' or informants' names. Are they Nureyev's words? Did one of his friends or family members say them? Did Solway invent them? How is one to know? How is one to credit the accuracy of a statement at all without the author's establishing of the source's credibility?
There is, of course, a great deal of credited information here, probably most that is not related to the dancer's sexual exploits already in print elsewhere. There is much that I did not know about the "hidden years" in Russia and near the end of the dancer's life. If the information is accurate, these bits are a valuable addition to the permanent body of knowledge about Nureyev (the reason for my 3 star rating).
However, I found the tone of the book uncomfortable. While it is presented as a serious biography, it seemed more akin to a (very weighty) gossip column to me. One other Amazon reviewer noted the presence of lots of stories about Nureyev's lovers (about 2 1/2 pages of speculation on whether Dame Margot Fonteyn was one of them--no definite conclusion). There are also the requisite _enfant terrible_ stories. But mostly missing are the stories of Nureyev's sweetness and generosity.
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Format: Paperback
The book gives impression of reading a work of psychologist. From the beginning to the end of the book, Diana could perfectly describe Nureyev's complex personality: disadvantaged childhood in Russia and aspiration for exposing a new world, warm Tatar blood and rudeness, egoism and ambition, brilliant talent and hard work, subtle sensibility and perfectionism, amazing beauty and extreme sexuality, the factors which contributed him becoming a great dancer of the century. Metaphors she used are funny and sharp as well. Finally, book gives very good information about the history of ballet, the culture that formed the background of the ballet etc.

Thanks Diane for this great job and thanks for giving a pleasure to the fans of Nureyev.
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Format: Hardcover
Compared to all the previous books about Rudolf Nureyev, Diane Solaway's "Nureyev: His Life" stands out as the most detailed, most researched and most complete account of the ballet dancer's life. Those who are interested in Russian culture, Tatar history, ballet, lives of gay celebrities, lifestyles of the rich and famous, etc. will find this book totally fascinating.
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Format: Paperback
Diane Solway's biography on Nureyev is a tour de force that sets out to accomplish what Virginia Woolf aptly christened to be the hallmark of a good biographer: "Almost any biographer, if he respects facts, can give us much more than another fact to add to our collection. He can give us the creative fact; the fertile fact; the fact that suggests and engenders".

Meticulously researched and righting many misconceptions and misleading reports (including Nureyev's very own autobiography which veered towards convenience with the truth, not unlike the genre of autobiographies), Solway's book avoided the usual pitfalls pervading biographies written on famous but controversial personalities.

Solway meritoriously stayed on neutral ground in her account of Nureyev's life and many loves, a far cry from biographers who tackled their favorite subject matters with a tad too much schmaltz and partiality. Solway's biography was devoid of sensationalism, not an easy feat considering Nureyev's history marred by self-interest, debauchery and promiscuity.

To Solway's credit, Nureyev's story was a matter-of-fact chronology penned in an appreciably elegant prose. The book chronicled the Russian danseur's story in such a way that allows readers to luxuriate in the intricate plots and subplots of Nureyev's affairs, rendering us the voyeuristic satisfaction of living life vicariously through one of the most influential dance performers of our times. The gastronomy of supplemental knowledge presenting ballet as an art form and entertainment; summaries of visionary dance choreographers that made and continue to make classical ballet/modern dance tick; exposure of the who's who in the dance world plus the plethora of scores that brought ballet performances to life.
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