Ninel Kurgapkina


Rudik and I danced together a lot, developing a fairly impressive repertoire the three years he was at the Kirov. We performed at the Maryinsky Theatre, frequently went on tours abroad and had triumphs together. Now, recalling that time and attempting a serious analysis of it all, I could of course simply list all the events in chronological order and draw up a critical resume. But since the subject is Rudik, I have no particular desire to do so. Our work together and our relationship was never pre-planned. It was real life — multifaceted and unpre­dictable — and, being life, it's impossible to place it in any preconceived boundaries.

Our first ballet together was "Gayane", which we performed during Rudik's first season at the Kirov. Before that, he was first given the role of Frondoso in "Laurentia" (where he danced with Dudinskaya), which meant that the part of Armen in "Gayane" was his second. When he was studying for the role, he was nothing short of fanatical. He was very quick on the uptake, so we were ready to go on after only about two weeks, no more. On top of everything, "Gayane" is no easy ballet. It has a very conventional stylistic form of dancing, but it also has its own particular character and eurythmics. When all is said and done, it's not a true classic. But that wasn't a problem for Rudik. He danced it perfectly.

Strange as it may seem, on finishing Ballet School he was already a fully-accomplished dancer. You never had to tell him where to put his hands or feet, advise him on how to support his partner or say to him, "Don't fall under me...". Of course, he knew how to throw a tantrum. But, all in all, he was a born dancer, in the truest sense of the word. Indeed, he must have been, for Dudinskaya would never have asked him to dance " Laurentia" with her if she' d thought for a minute that he would drop her.

As he progressed under Dudinskaya's tutelage, he picked up everything very quickly, developing at an extraordinary speed. Maybe some ballerinas complain nowadays that he didn't hold them properly on turns, but all I can say is that our rotations were always a success. True, he would give me a little help in the pirouettes — which most ballerinas like to have. But I'd usually tell him all he had to do was hold me up and I'll do the rest. "Just help me to hold on. Don't mess," I would say to him. Rudik liked both my independence of mind and the way our heights flattered one another. He was 5 foot 9 inches and I was exactly 5 feet 3 inches.

" Gayane" was a great success for us and it was a pleasure to work with Rudik, in spite of his "difficult" character. He wasn't popular at the

theater. In fact, the honest truth was that unless you were actually dancing with him, there was little which was lovable about him. At the Kirov, there's a tradition of respect, verging on servility, but Rudik totally lacked any reverence for it He preferred to remain aloof from the others and showed it in a number of blunt actions that shook the whole theater community to its core. One such instance comes to mind when Rudik, having just finished Ballet School, came to take his first class at the theater. He walked into the studio and stopped right by the barre. It was customary for the youngest in class to take a watering-can and wet the floor not only by the barre but also in the middle of the room. Everyone was standing around waiting for Rudik to do so. But he simply stood there in front of everyone, with a hand on his hip, and stared. Someone said to him: "Go on, Rudik, you're the youngest. Water the floor." Rudik shook his finger at all of us, picked up his gear and left the room. Later on, I asked him why he wouldn't water the floor. "Why should I have?" he replied. "Because it's a tradition," I said. "The youngest always waters the floor." "To begin with, I'm not so young," he said to me. "And what's more, there's no shortage of talentless idiots in there who're only fit to water the floor!" Rudik was, as you can see, badly lacking in discipline.

Yet when it came to the cultural side of things, Rudik absorbed information like a sponge. He had an excellent under- standing of music and, widely-read or not, he was always bright and perceptive. He was interested in absolutely every­thing under the sun. On the other hand, when he was engaged in his work, no one could ever guess what kind of mood he was in — whether he was in a good mood or in a bad one — because he was so absorbed in what he was doing. In other words, he was a dancer in the fullest sense of the word. And he also understood that to be a dancer you had to have a partner.

"Gayane" marked the start of our long friendship together. This role completely suited him right down to the ground. Rudik looked extremely handsome and he had, I would say, a rather "Gayanesque" character. Our pas de deux together was a wonderful success, even though I was very demanding myself. (I, too, was far from having an easy-going character.) Especially when it comes to lifts. Believe me, there are many different types of lifts in this pas de deux and all of them are extremely difficult — such as the one when he raises me up over him and carries me across the length of the stage with only one of his hands supporting me. Rudik executed it all brilliantly. And if, at rehearsals, I'd ask him to practice this lift with me a dozen times, that's exactly what he would do. Even if it was twenty times, no problem. You never heard Rudik complain: "Oh, must I? But I'm so tired!" Truly, there had never been anyone like Rudik before. That's how he differed from all those "geniuses" who came after him and who considered themselves to be dancers with a capital "D"! What was a mere ballerina to them? So, I have to say that I enjoyed dancing with Rudik, particularly because he was so very musical. You see, when pirouettes or lifts are performed in synch with the music, it not only looks good, it also makes their execution much easier. On the other hand, when one of the two people performing is out of synch with the music, the inevitable result is a lack of coordination and the movement doesn't quite come off. Rudik's talent for feeling the music never let him down.

Our second ballet together was "La Bayadere", where I danced Gamzatti. I remember one particularly difficult duet, in which I had an entrance which included a difficult renversè Usually, whoever is playing Solor prefers to soar up above his partner at this point, to show off the superiority of his jumping technique. But Rudik wasn't like that at all. He believed that a duet was a duet and even though he might take off before his partner, he felt that the two of you should land together. The same went for the jetè en avants. He would land exactly in time with the music, and not because he was already an experienced dancer or possessed  a profound technique, but simply because his natural feeling for dance wouldn't let him do otherwise. Remember, in those days, it was customary to dance in time with the music. We hadn't reached the point where it became fashionable to linger in the air longer than necessary, as if to say: "It's not my fault the tempo is so fast! Come on, music, wait for me. I'm still flying!" Because of this approach that Rudik and I shared, our duets were always a beautiful event.

After "La Bayadere", the next season saw us dancing "Don Quixote", a ballet that took us a relatively long time to prepare. (As far as Rudik was concerned, it seemed to take a long time, although I don't believe it took us more than a month). And as always happens, "D.Q." began with a conflict during rehearsals. In this particular instance) it involved a man at the Kirov named Mikhail Mikhailovich Mikhailov, a guardian of tradition who had an absolute horror when anyone made the slightest attempt to change anything and who would go off the deep end at the sight of any innovation. Rudik was to have many run-ins with Mikhailov, but this first one took place as we were just starting to work on " Don Quixote". Rudik was rehearsing his first variation and, right before his exit, he made a long pause before taking a series of soft, slow, drawn-out steps. Mikhailov almost burst a blood-vessel. "Stop!" he yelled. "What's going on? You can't do that! Do it again!" Not that anyone was arguing with him. But once Rudik had made up his mind about something, there was no changing it. He quietly repeated his exit, only this time it was even slower. Mikhailov couldn't stand it. "I can't work under these conditions. I'm leaving!" And out he went, washing his hands of us. Out he went, but I stayed. I thought Rudik's innovation to be perfectly permissible and I saw no reason for making such a drama out of it. "Rudik," I said." Do it quickly, just for Mikhailov, and then you can perform it on stage the way you want to do it." "Why should I?" he demanded. "Why should I fake it for him if I'm going to do it my way on the stage?" Thankfully, at that point, Alexander Ivanovich Pushkin interceded and began rehearsing with Rudik his role in the ballet. In any case, this wasn't to be his last incident with Mikhailov.

In "Don Quixote", I didn't dance the simple variation that is usually performed nowadays. I danced the one that incorporated the leaps which Dudinskaya did. The final diagonal took me to the very front edge of the stage, which was all too often littered with flowers after Rudik's solo variation. Just try dancing on that! It's not only difficult, but extremely hazardous as well. Nothing could've been easier than slipping on all these petals and injuring yourself. "Rudik, please tell your fans not to throw any flowers after your variation,"


I said. "If they have to throw them, let it be after the coda and, if possible, from the other side. Best of all would be if they waited until the very end. Don't worry, I don't want your flowers. But I'm warning you: if there are any more slippery petals scattered about, I won't dance until you've cleared them all away." "How am I supposed to know who's going to throw flowers?" he replied. "Find out!" I snapped. Anyway, during the next performance of "Don Quixote", the flowers once again came flying down onto the stage. Just as I thought, I said to myself. But before I had a chance to do anything, I saw Rudik out there scooping up the flowers. He picked up every last petal and then disappeared with them into the wings. I should've realized then that there was no way he could have controlled the actions of his fans. Needless to say, it could have all ended very tragically.

Despite the fact that he had been with the company for only three years, Rudik had a great number of fans. (I often danced with him, and not only in the big productions. "Swan Lake" was one of "our" ballets, but that was much later). Once, for example, Sergeyev sent Rudik and me on a 40-day tour of East Germany, promising that it would be strictly our own tour with the two of us dancing all the evening performances. But wouldn't you know it, when we got there we found that we were part of a travelling circus, with singing, dancing and other various sideshows. And so, we travelled the length and breadth of East Germany in a bus — as part that farce. But as luck would have it, it seemed that the Germans already knew of us. I'd already been there before and it turned out Rudik knew a lot of Germans from Ballet School. I can't quite recall how the invitation came about, but in Berlin we were asked to perform our program for the local ballet dancers there. Well, what can I say, Rudik and I danced our entire repertoire for them: Pas de deuxs from "Giselle", "Don Quixote", "Sleeping Beauty" and finally a kind of Moshkovsky Waltz. I had often danced this waltz with Bregvadze in Leningrad, but with Rudik I only danced it when we went abroad. His technique during the lifts couldn't have been better and our Moshkovsky Waltz turned out well. We had no time whatsoever to catch our breaths between numbers. We did one pas de deux after another. But it all went so well that, even now, many years later, I still meet people who saw us that night and remember our unforgettable performance together. Throughout all of the tour, Rudik carried himself with great restraint. Which was a great help when you bear in mind the conditions we were forced to put up with and the vast distances we had to cover... in a bus.

That same bus led to a really upsetting incident. The chief culprit in the whole affair was a pair of trousers that I always wore when I was travelling. At the time, Soviet women weren't supposed to wear trousers — or rather, they could and did, only it was considered unbecoming. Any woman wearing trousers would be refused entry into a restaurant or any other public building. But in the West, no one gave a damn about such a thing and East Germany was no different. When we arrived in Dresden, Rudik and I got off the bus and went into an art gallery with me wearing these trousers of mine — much to the fury of some Soviets who were present. When I returned to Leningrad, I discovered that a certain do-gooder — I only found out later it was the then-president of Goskontsert — had cooked up an almost unbelievable letter about me, claiming that I had behaved abominably and had even gone into a Dresden art gallery dressed "unspeakably indecent". I didn't know what to do, so I started knocking on doors, went to the head of Goskontsert — who, of course, didn't tell me that he was the one who had written the letter — all the while dragging Rudik along with me, even right up to the Party Oblast Committee. But no matter what I tried, it did no good. I was left out of the next tour to Paris on account of that blasted letter. And, by the way, that letter wasn't just written out of the blue. It had been officially requested by a member of the Kirov management. I think this incident with the trousers might also have played an important role in Rudik's fate as well, because when they tried to force him to return to Russia after his defection, he understood all too well that even if they didn't throw him into prison, there was a hundred percent chance the authorities would never let him out of the country again. Such were the far-reaching repercussions of that East German tour.

Of course there were many other trips. In fact, we travelled across the entire Soviet Union together. Among other places, we once went to the Pushkinsiye Gory for some type of Pushkin jubilee. (here : A.S. Pushkin is the great Russian poet.) You see, it seemed that we were indispensable to the Kirov when it came to big events. We even performed at Khrushchev's dacha. Now that really was something! Picture it: Not simply a park, but a whole enormous, well-kept forest. I couldn't begin to say how many miles long it was. You could walk through it for hours and not meet a living soul — it turns out that everyone had been discreetly removed — and then suddenly come upon a little stream, a sparkling little brook, with a bottle of champagne lying in the water. Just lying there, for the taking. You'd walk on further and come across a barbecue, with kebabs frying right in front of you. All you had to do was reach out and take one. I'd been at places like this before. Such as the Mediterance Country Club in France. But I'd never been to a place like this in my own country. In fact, I didn't think places such as this existed. Yet, to my surprise, there were these Russians who had absolutely everything — and made damn good use of it all! That day, we danced an adagio and coda from "Don Quixote" on a small stage which had been built for Rudik and me. While we danced, Khrushchev and his entourage sat at tables just in front of us and ate their dinner.

Long before that time, Rudik and I made a memorable trip to Vienna for the Festival of Young People and Students where Kirov dancers took part in the ballet competition. There were a lot of us there — Sizova, Kekisheva, Zabotkina, Kolpakova, Gentsler, the newlyweds Maksimova and Vasilyev, myself and Rudik. It was a major event. Some of us had gone there to take part in the competition while others were simply there as guests. Rudik and I brought our "Laurentia", although he also danced with Sizova a pas de deux from "Le Corsaire" — for which they scored the highest number of points possible. (I didn't take part in the contest, since I went there as part of the out-of-competition contingent. You see, the Kirov was giving a lot of concert performances there also.) And how do you think we got to Vienna? Ina very original manner: by bus!!! Can you imagine that? All the way from Moscow to Vienna in a bus! I don't even remember where it was we slept. Surely, it couldn't have been on the bus? In any case, we travelled with a member of the Komsomol, since each bus had at least one of these government agents on board. Ours would suddenly announce, "Let's sing a song!" and we would all have to sing along. Or, it would be, "Let's all be very quiet!" and everyone would be expected to fall silent. Everyone, that is, except for Rudik and me. We had what you call "attitude". We'd do the complete opposite of what we were asked to do. When everyone else was singing, we would remain quiet. And when everyone else was quiet, we would sing out loud. At which point, this little Komsomol guy would berate us. "Why aren't you singing!" "I don't know. I guess we just don't feel like it." "But everyone's got to sing together!" And so it would go. Always the same.

On and on we travelled, until at last we drew into Budapest, which has a stunningly beautiful opera house. We made a stop there — all of us, about forty or fifty buses. I think there must've been more than a thousand of us: sportsmen, musicians, dancers, not to mention the separate youth delegation. We were told to be back on the bus in half an hour. I stayed in my seat and rested, but Rudik went off somewhere. Time goes by and everyone starts to return. Except for Rudik. At first, no one realized who exactly was missing. Then the Komsomol began running up and down the buses. Only then did it become apparent that it was Nureyev. So, we waited and waited. He eventually turned up half an hour later and, of course, everyone attacked him. "Why are you so late? Where the hell were you? Half an hour, you were told!" "How do I know when I'll be in Budapest again?" he said. "I wanted to see the opera house!".

   Finally, our troupe arrived in Vienna. We were given large rooms to sleep in and even had some free evenings to ourselves — which Rudik and I didn’t let go to waste. On one of them, Rudik said to me, "Let's run away and go dancing!" You see, Vienna had dances for young people at that time, So we ran off to one of them. I remember I wore my favorite taffeta dress. Many years later, when Rudik was close to death, he reminisced about that night we ran off together: "Do you remember the time we ran away to that dance? Do you remember that dress you wore?" Of course, I remembered. How could I forget?

On another trip, we spent New Year's in Egypt. There, by tradition, a belly-dancer is always invited for festive occasions. She'd start off dancing, half-naked, by herself. Then, after awhile, she'd entice one of the men present to dance with her. Our belly- dancer began to sidle up to Rudik, trying to lure him out onto dance. One thing led to another. The next thing you know Rudik was out there dancing with gusto, as if he'd been belly-dancing in Egypt all his life.   ,

We had a lot of adventures together in Africa, which meant that we slept very little. Every morning at eight o'clock the hotel would project Walt Disney cartoons for the children present. (Parents used to bring their kids there for their birthday and present them with little gifts.) Rudik and I would go down every day not only to watch the cartoons but also to watch those little Arab children play with their hula-hoops, swinging four of them at once around their little bodies. Other times, Rudik and I would wander off into the city. Once, we even got lost. That was when Cairo still had the infamous Halila Bazaar, a hodgepodge of slums and thieves's dens. It was here that we lost our way, in the midst of all the dregs of society. It was getting dark and neither of us spoke a word of Arabic. To this day, I don't know how we managed to find our way back.

One day, during our tour in Egypt, Rudik and I were driven out into the desert where Rudik and I climbed up Cheops's pyramid. Up and up we clambered, before I realized that I had left my camera on one of the steps below. I turned to go back down, but soon discovered that descending was a far more daunting task. I returned to that pyramid years later and was immediately overcome with fright, due to my fear of heights. But Rudik was always drawn to them. And he was both delighted and proud that we had managed to make it to the top. While we were still in Cairo, one day we climbed up on the roof of our hotel so that Rudik could take a photograph of the city. I can't describe how terrified I was, but Rudik didn't seem to know the meaning of fear. Another time, either on an official outing or on one of our days off, we were driven somewhere and ended up in a place that was completely deserted when we arrived — a restaurant, I think it was. Rudik and I were wandering about the place and, out of nowhere, we came upon a piano. Now, I was a real music nut. I used to play the piano every day and often lent Rudik my sheet music. So, I sat down at the keyboard and began to play a few things from memory — Beethoven's Seventh Sonata, Chopin's Seventh Waltz — while Rudik sat nearby and listened. Things were all going very well when I suddenly heard people applauding. It turned out that the restaurant wasn't deserted after all. People were sitting in a dining area down below, enjoying my little impromptu recital.

Sometimes, totally unexpected things happened while Rudik and I were on tour. For example, there was the time we arrived in Bulgaria by train at the crack of dawn. We were still sitting inside the train when we heard a great commotion coming from the platform outside. A group of people had gathered there and was chanting "Nu-re-yev! Nu-re-yev!" as they passed crates full of peaches to us through the window.

It was events like this that made me aware of Rudik's incredible popularity and fame. Because you wouldn't have been aware of it from looking at his lifestyle. Of course, by the standards of the day, he was comfortably well-off. He held the position of soloist at the Kirov and the management had allotted him a room in a flat. He once stormed up to me and said: "Have you heard? They're giving me a flat! With Sizova! They think that by doing so I'll eventually marry her! Never!!!" To tell the truth, the Kirov did actually give Rudik and Sizova a two-bedroom flat, although neither he nor Alia really ever lived there. Alla's parents moved into her room and Rudik's room ended up being occupied by his sister Rosa. Sizova had already moved in with Komkova while Rudik had taken up residence at the Pushkins. One day, while he was living there, Rudik invited me over to see his extensive record collection. "Have you ever heard Debussy's 'Clouds'?" "I might have, but I don't remember exactly," I replied. "Well, I've got the record, if you want to listen to it?" "I do." "Then. come on!" "But is it alright?" I asked, worried that the Pushkins might feel obliged to leave the room. "Of course, it is. Come on." We went into a room that had an enormous old bed in it, sat and listened to his records. After awhile, I asked, "So where do you sleep?" "Me? Here." "And what about Alexander Ivanovich?" "I don't know, he and his wife sleep somewhere else." Sic transit gloria mundi!

Rudik always gave himself over completely to the matter at hand. I remember him once asking me, "Do you know I'm dancing Bluebird today?" "Yes, I know." "Are you coming along to see me?" "Of course, I am." The next*day, we ran into each other on one of the staircases in the Ballet School. "Well, what did you think?" "I've seen you dance better." "Oh, really?" "I felt that you could have jumped higher." ."I don't agree." Several days later, we met on that same staircase and he said: "You know, I saw the film they made of my performance. And I think I danced it very well!!!" In actual truth, the part of Bluebird didn't really suit Rudik. Solor and Albrecht maybe, but not Bluebird.

Another thing I have to say about Rudik is that in both his aesthetics and in his approach to dancing there was something slightly effeminate about him. He was the first man ever to dance on high half-points and extend his leg high up in the air. Before he came on the scene, high arabesques and passes were not popular. (I know that he had looked through a lot of Western ballet magazines — where he got them from I don't know.) I once asked him, "Why do you sometimes dance so effeminately?" "Don't you realize?" he said to me. "I'm still a boy!"

He wanted to dance "Swan Lake" and was given it, along with "Sleeping Beauty", not long before the Paris tour. I guess you could say the Kirov bought me off with that "Swan Lake". Rudik and I rehearsed it together and then I was left out of the tour, thanks to that damned trousers-in-the-Dresden-gallery incident. (Of course, the management knew all along that I wasn't going to be taken on tour.) Nevertheless, Rudik and I worked out most of the steps in about two weeks, then the hints started coming one after another that we'd have to finish rehearsing it sometime later. I hated to have to interrupt our work like this. Who knows what could happen? And as fate would have it, things turned out even worse than expected...

I was extremely upset when Rudik defected. I lost not only a wonderful partner, but also a good friend, for our relationship was more than just that of two people who danced well together. I liked him enormously, even if he could be extremely unpleasant at times. But I could see that he had made the right choice. The next time I was in Paris with the Kirov, the phone rang. It was Rudik. "Can I take you out to dinner?" "We've just been told that we can't go out on our own." "Then can I send you some flowers?" "There's no need to do that." "Can I meet up with you after dinner?" "I really don't think that's such a good idea." "I get it. There's a lot you're not allowed to do."

When the Kirov went on tour to Verona, Rudik came to one of our performances and sent flowers to me through Carla Fracci. Only much later were we able to meet under normal circumstances, when Rudik lived in Paris. I went over to his apartment and we talked for hours.

Rudik's death did not come as a surprise to me. He'd been ill for a long time and was in particularly bad shape towards the end. I was at the funeral, where I was suddenly asked to read some verses of Pushkin's from "Eugene Onegin". We were all waiting for the coffin to be brought down the Grande Opera's staircase when a man, accompanied by his. translator, came up to me and said, "We'd be really grateful if you could read some verses from 'Eugene Onegin' in Rudik's memory." I was totally flustered: "I've never read in public before. I'd be hopeless." "That wouldn't matter." "But I don't have my glasses with me." "Don't worry, we'll find you some." So, I submitted and read out loud the verses. And you know what, it didn't turn out half bad...


                      Tis time to loose me from my tether;

                      I call on freedom — naught avails:

                      I pace the beach, await good weather,

                     And beckon to the passing sails.

                     When, wrapped in storm, shall I be battling

                     The billows, while the shrouds are ratti

                    Quit of the shore's dull element?

                   'Tis time to seek the southern surges

                     Beneath my Afric's sunny sky,

                    And, there at home, for Russia sigh,

                    Lamenting in new songs and dirges

                   The land that knew my love, my pain,

                   Where long my buried heart has lain.


After the memorial at Paris Opera, we drove out to the cemetery. The French Ministry of Culture deserves much thanks for the first-class arrangements he made, although there was one thing I think that Rudik would have strongly objected to: he was buried in the same row as Lifar... someone he could never stand.



It is article from the book " Three years at the Kirov theatre ". The author of a site thanks L.P.Myasnikova and T.I.Zakrzhevskaja for this gift.




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