аааааа аONE GREAT LOVE аааааааааааа
I have a feeling that my reminiscences of Rudik,
and how his career began at the Kirov Theatre will be somewhat short and highly
subjective, since it was only much later on in time that I
began following his every success. In those days, I had my
own aesthetic principles and personal credo regarding ballet. I already had "The Stone
Flower" behind me. At the time, it was considered a highly-innovative ballet and I remember how its
choreography overturned all my traнditional
views on the classics, which I was beginning to get slightly bored with. (It was these big classical ballets that Rudik was given to dance when he first joined the company.) All the same, I was never a
great fan of all the changes then taking
place in classical ballet and which were synonymous with the name of Rudolf Nureyev. Unfortunately for me, I only
became properly acquainted with Nureyev much later, after he had
defected in Paris
in 1961, and that was only from videotapes.
I can never thank his sister Rosa enough for giving me the opportunity to see what a wonderful dancer he had
become. Like me, she lived in Leningrad and so would bring smuggled recordings of her
brother over to my house. But, all that was much later.
remember Rudik quite distinctly in the Moscow of 1959 as a "promising young man" from
the Kirov, preparing for our trip to Vienna for the Festival
of Young People and Students. We had a lot of promising young stars during that
period and I remember how all of us went to the
stadium in Moscow
to rehearse. Among them was the fiery young Nureyev. At the time, we all
suspected that he was having an affair with Ninel
Kurgapkina, his partner in "Laurentia".
He was always so bright and alert and smiling that we
naturally assumed he was in love.
My memories of that festival have long since faded. Of course, we had
our triumphs, but what I remember most are the constant
intimidation, threats and blackmal that we suffered
at the hands of our directors. And, I'll never forget one incident involving Rudik which took place during a return trip back to Leningrad, when
our train stopped at Kiev.
We only had half an hour or so, but Rudik
had never been in Kiev before and so he got off the train, stopped a taxi and drove off to Prince Vladimir's Cathedral to see Vrubel's
famous painting which was hanging there. (This episode marked
the first in a series of incidents between Nureyev and our
administration.) As usual, Rudik was late returning, missed the train and had to catch the following one to Leningrad. Someone made the
fateful joke: "Have you heard? Rudik's defected... to Kiev?
wasn't long before a real defection took place: When he didn't want to board the plane back to Moscow.
But, before that incident, he had two more years at the Kirov. I can't remember what year it was, but I'll never forget seeing him
dance "Giselle" with Irina Kolpakova and
"Laurentia" with Natalia Dudinskaya. Both these performances were
not just a great success for him, but also provoked a number of rows and
scandals within the company. As far as his character was concerned, he was Ч to say the least Ч uncompromising, capricious and
The management frequently upbraided him for changing costumes and appearing on stage without the traditional pair of
ballet shorts. His performances never
passed without some incident taking place. Nevertheless, the public loved him.
I adored his performance as Frondoso in "Laurentia", but when talking Ч or
rather, arguing Ч with my friend, the ballet critic and historian P. Karp about
I was adamant that Semyonov's performance as Albrecht
far surнpassed Nureyev's. Could I have been
wrong? It's quite possible, as I was taught to believe that Prince
Albrecht's artistic interpretation took second place to technique. Kolpakova and Nureyev's
interpretation went just too far beyond the bounds of what was traditional for me. Even though I already had a
taste of innovation in "The
Stone Flower" and so should have been less set in my ways than others, all
the same... No, I was too tightly bound by the ropes of tradition in those days
and couldn't bear any changes whatsoever in the classical ballets, be it
in the choreography or in the interpretation of a role. (And,
how our generation suffered as a result of
this!) But whatever the case, Kolpakova and Nureyev were an enormous success Ч no more
than what they deserved. Even then,
Nureyev was already beginning to put his own thoughts and beliefs into the hero on stage. When I saw him many years later in
"Giselle" Ч alas, only on video
Ч he won me over completely with both his style and his interpretation.
But then, 1961 dawned. The company went to Paris
on tour, performing "Sleeping Beauty" (with Semyonov and Nureyev as Desire), "Swan Lake",
"The Stone Flower" and the last act of "La Bayadere".
Simultaneously, this tour proved to be a
triumph and a tragedy for the Kirov.
Nureyev defected in Paris.
Which wasn't surprising after all the iniquities
heaped on him by our maнnagement. One example was the dress rehearsal for
"Sleeping Beauty". Even though
it was an astounding success and articles were even written about him in the newspapers Ч an event simply without
precedent, Ч he was replaced by another
dancer for opening night. So, it was in Paris
that I lost to Fate my dancing partner. When that happened, only then
did I understand him better and feel closer to him.
Rudik had simply thousands of
fans. The papers were writing about him as if he were something from another
planet. But, within the walls of the theatre, egalitarian
ism reigned and our managers relegated their rising young star to the corps de
ballet. However, Rudolf wasn't someone to take things lying down. He resisted
their decisions and defended his right to have an individual personality. After
our last "Swan Lake" together Ч the next morning we were
scheduled to fly on to London
Ч Rudik and I were invited by some balletomanes to a restaurant. But, our KGB escorts refused to let us go. So,
those who had invited us began noisily demanding that Rudik
and I be allowed to go out Ч right in front of the Palais
de Sport where we were performing. In the face of such a scandal, there was
nothing our "guards" could do except to let us go. As we started to
leave, one of them said to me: "You're responsible for all this." But why me? What did they think we were up to? After the
meal, Rudik and I met up briefly with some friends, then headed for our separate hotels. I jokingly asked him:
"Rudik, are you going home to bed?", to which he replied: "And, Alla,
are you going home to bed?". We wished each other good night and parted in
laughter, knowing that neither of us had any intention of turning in for the
next morning, we met each other at the airport for our flight to London. Everything was
calm and quiet and we talked of the wonderfully carefree time we had the night
before. Rudik was the last to head for the plane.
Then, a completely unexpected and unjustifiable thing happened. One of the KGB
agents stopped him and announced: "Nureyev, you won't be flying to London. You're flying
home". Can you imagine what must have gone through his mind at that
moment? A feeling of utter shock, of course.
"Why?" he asked. But, they didn't need to give him a reason. The
authorities had spoken and that's that. And, what did he think lay ahead of
him? No more trips abroad, that's for sure. Rudik
understood this only too well. What happened next I only heard about through
Vera Bocca-doro, a French friend of Russian
extraction, who witnessed the entire scene. It turned
out some French friends of Rudik's who had come to
see him off quickly
realized what was going on and urged him to
request political asylum. They spoke in English, which he himself spoke a
little, but which his escorts didn't unнderstand. Then, in a moment that some
call insanity, without realizing the consequences, he turned and walked away
from his escorts. And, went right over to "the other
side". It wasn't until thirty years later did he return home to
Russia Ч crowned with glory, but only for a brief visit.
1961, Rudik's career took off. And
what about us? From that moment on, the Kirov went into decline. And, during the next
ten years, we lost one after another of our leading stars as they began
following Nureyev's footsteps Westнward. And, their
names became not just forbidden words in the country in which they had been
born, these people were totally erased. As if they never had even existed! It
was only last year, in 1994, that we were all finally re-united. The place was Milan and the occasion was the opening of an exhibition by
the St. Petersburg
entitled "From Pavlova to Nureyev". It sudнdenly
dawned on me that everyone standing on the museum steps waiting to enter the
exhibition were once the pride of Russian ballet! But,
back in 1961, Rudolf Nureyev was considered a traitor to his country and was
all too effectively excommunicated. I'm neither fantasizing nor exaggerating
what happened. Oh, no. In fact, I ended up being a witness in a court case
brought by Rudik's sister, Rosa, when she heard the
story of his "flight". By bringing the matter to courtа she thought she could prove to the
Soviet people that Rudik hadn't intended to defect,
that he had been driven to it by the absurd conditions forced on him by the
KGB. Remember, defecting could have meant the end of a career for Rudik, since the only world he knew was the (Kirov) stage. I know this
is true. He told me all about his thoughts and dreams. He wanted so much to
return to Leningrad
and dance "The Legend Of Love", which he
wasn't able to dance because of some silly quarrel with Grigorovich.
However, Rudik and I had begun rehearsing it. And,
even from those few rehearsals, I could tell that if he'd only been allowed to
dance it, it would have been a proud chapter in the Kirov's long history.
But, back to Paris
and 1961. On one of our days off, I had a chance to go for a
walk around Paris with the Kirov's brilliant production designer, S.B. Vir-saladze. (By the way, this walk of ours took place a
few days before the flight to London.)
Besides his extraordinary and interesting tales of Paris, I'll never forget Virsaladze's
enormous eyes Ч like two big looking-glasses Ч as he gleeнfully looked in a
cafe window and asked me:
"Alla, do you know what those are? They're artichokes! Have
you ever eaten artichokes before?"
course I haven't, S.B."
on, let's go in and try some. Perhaps they're not too expensive!" After we
had partaken of this "exotic" vegetable, he told me a little anecdote
about Rudik: "Oh, I know he doesn't give a damn
about anything or anyone, Alla, but I'm ready to
forgive him everything because of what he did. A couple of days ago Nureyev
came up to me and asked me to go with him to the factory where they make lycra, to choose costume fabrics
for 'The Legend Of Love'. That's the first time in my life I've ever had a
dancer ask me to do that! So, we went there and bought everything I thought he
would need for the performance. He spent almost his entire tour allowance at
that factory. Alla, that boy's really on the
suitcase with all the costume material flew with us on to London. But, it was the owner of that
suitcase Ч a great artist Ч who was put on trial in the Leningrad Municipal
Court. Only a few witnesses showed up. I remember that Sasha Kondratyev and Alla Sizova were there; the others have faded in my memory
through the mists of time. But, that's not important. What's important is that
everyone who did turn up was united in saying that Rudik
had never wanted to remain in France.
He only did so on the spur of the moment, because of
the fear that the KGB had instilled in him. The fear of an
artist facing the prospect of never again dancing on any of the world's stages.
The court proнnounced "that Nureyev be sentenced to seven years's deprivation of his freedom ' for unpremeditated
treason". In hindsight, it appears that our testimony did have some
effect; otherwise, he could have been sentenced for up to fifteen years.
So, if Rudik had returned to Russia, he would have been forced
to sit out seven years either in prison or in internal exile! It was during
this court case that I became friends with Rosa Nureyeva.
And, a few years later, she ended up teaching my son Vanya
at the kindergarten on Barmaleyeva Street. That was
in 1965 and that was how my link to Rudik in the West
1961, my career at the Kirov
took a sharp decline. I was left out of the European tours and was only offered
work outside of the theatre. I withdrew into my shell and only a few friends
knew what I was going through internally. But then, in 1966, the Kirov's management suddenly announced that they were
taking me to Italy (ah,
Italia!...) to dance "Sleeping Beauty" in Verona. And, from Italy, the company was going on to London, where they had a
long engageнment. The repertoire there was going to consist of
"Beauty" and "Lake" and
much, much more. All of which was MY REPERTOIRE! I begged them to leave me out
of the Verona dates Ч where I was only going to dance one of the Lilac fairies
Ч and take me instead to London, where I hoped the public still rememнbered me
from 1961.1 so wanted to dance just one more time in London! But, alas and
alack, I was turned down and they took Moiseyeva and
another dancer instead! Thus fate ended up taking me to Italy.
At long last, after five long years, I was finally being taken abнroad Ч even
though during that period the Kirov had already
gone on two tours to America,
France, and possibly to Britain. All without me. Oh, but they'll pay for this one day! , I
thought to myself. Of course, it goes without saying that our "friendly
colleagues" from the KGB constantly stood watchful guard over Naнtasha Makarova and me. The agents even took both of us out to
dinner in a restaurant and, what's more, they picked up the tab! That was an
almost unнheard-of thing for Soviet men to do when they were in the West. If a
group of us ever went out to a restaurant, everyone would pay for themselves.
But, then again, when did we ever have the money to eat in a restaurant! They
gave us an allowance of eleven dollars a day, no more. What a joke! Natasha was
convinced the KGB agents were actually in love with us. At last, opening night
of "Sleeping Beauty" at the Verona Arena arrived! I have very happy
memories of that night Ч of my own triumph and of the recognition by the
public. But there was something much more exciting going on in the audience
that night. Ninel Kurgapkina
had to suddenly step in to dance Aurora,
since Kolpakova had hurt her foot. Kolpakova sat and watched from the stalls with members of
the administration. She'd heard from somewhere there was a chance Nureyev might
show up that evening. She turned to her neighbor, Rachinsky
(the Director of the Kirov)
and said: "Pyotr Ivanovich,
I've heard that Nureyev's in the theatre" Before Rachinsky
had a chance to reply, they heard a slight cough coming from somewhere behind
them. Either that or someone uttering a very soft "I'm here". Which would have been very like something Rudik
would do. I don't really know for sure what happened next since I was on
stage at the time. But, I did notice him when we were taking our bows: He was
standing by the footlights clapping, wearing dark glasses and looking extremely
elegant. Only he'd changed a lot. Our eyes met and, gesturing at my figure, he
gave me a "thumbs-up". I smiled, grateful for his compliment. Our
manager, Mario, came up to me afterwards and said that Rudik
wanted to meet with me and talk about the possibility of our once again dancing
together. But, there was just no way I could take him up on this offer. I had a
family waiting for me back in Leningrad
Ч two grandmothers, a mother and my four-year-old Vanya.
And so, no meeting ever took place.
а I returned to Leningrad
and contacted Rosa to let her know that Rudik was doing perfectly all right. Some time later, Rosa managed to get hold of several video recordings of Rudik's performances. And
what bliss that was! She was terrified of the KGB and, at this point, suffering
from a persecution complex. And, with
good reason. She used to phone me at my flat on Zhelyabova and ask: "Alla, do you need any sausages?".
If I answered yes, that was our signal to mean she could come over to our
house. I would reply: "Bring them over around seven o'clock". And this was in the 1970's! (We did, however, once run
into a hitch. According to our pre-arranged plan, one day she
called and asked me if I needed any sausages. I replied that I wouldn't be at home
that day. She immediately burst out
laughing, explaining that she really did have some sausages for me.) One night, around seven o'clock, she came over
with some videocassettes of Rudik, which we
watched in a state of ecstasy. I saw him dance "La Dame aux Camellias", "Les Sylphides"
with Carta Fracci, a modern
ballet with Margot Fonteyn and,
finally, "Don Quixote". I could hardly believe how his career had taken off. Not even ten years after defecting and
he had managed to do so much Ч and
how! Rosa and I were truly happy for Rudik. I never
felt the slightest twinge of
jealousy. I was simply happy that he'd successfully managed to change the course of his life and become the greatest dancer
in the world! A few years later, Rosa left the country and I lost all contact with the Nureyevs
for seventeen years. There was no
longer anyone to bring over videocassettes Ч and now I had to buy my own
lot came into my life those seventeen years and a lot went out of it. In 1971, Natasha
Makarova "remained behind" in London. I heard that not
long after this she danced a "Swan Lake"
pas de deux with Rudik. But
somehow they never really hit it off and, to my great
disappointment, no lasting partnership developed between
them. Rudik was never again to have a permanent
partner like Margot Fonteyn, although he did dance with every major
ballet star in the world. But for me, all this was nothing
more than rumors, passed on second- and third-hand. In 1974,
Mikhail Baryshnikov defected while he was in Canada. The night before he went there on tour, I danced "The Prodigal Son" with him. (Misha was the one who had talked me into
returning to the Kirov Theatre for this performance, even
though I had vowed never to cross its threshold again. But, it was a night devoted to him and so I relented.) Later, just before his departure, he
came over to my house and we talked about the prospects of continuing to dance
together, of working with Mai Murdmaa who was
choreographing "Phaedra". I thought it was a very interesting idea:
Baryshnikov as Hippolytos, John as the Tsar and me as Phaedra!... Dream on, Osipenko!
Why am I recalling all this? None of it seems to bear any direct
relationship to Rudik. But, for me,
it does. After 1961, whenever anyone copied his example and left, I'd think of Rudik and think how right all of them were to take Fate
into their own hands and jump! I don't think it was probably that difficult for
Natasha and Mikhail to make a fresh start in the West. But,
for Rudik, it was different. Since he was the
pioneer, he really did step out into the unknown. Those who came after him knew that if you had talent, you could at least get by Ч
and not too badly for yourself either! I suppose we all get
the Fate we deserve. (I was told that this saying of
Feuchtwanger's from his "Spanish Ballad" was written on the gates at Auschwitz. I can't guarantee
it for a fact, but the saying is true: We all get what we deserve.)
And so, twenty-eight long years go by! It's 1989 and life in Russia has
hardly changed at all. Not even mine. By that point, I was no
longer dancing and it's been a long time since I'd
performed anything interesting for my country Ч but, then again, had I ever? I
think the authorities must have been afraid that I too would flee the Soviet Union. Then, all
of a sudden and completely out of the blue, I received three, make that four, invitations
to travel abroad. One came from Anne Barr
in London, our
wonderful translator from 1961 who evidently hadn't forнgotten me,
despite all the years that had gone by. Another was from Gabby Darven in New York, a
Romanian who studied at the Kirov and later emigrated to America.
Another one was from one of my former pupils, Nadia Veselova
in Toronto, and the fourth was from some French friends, who
were diplomats in Florence. I wondered how on earth I would choose which one
to accept. But, once again, Fate
stepped in and I ended up going to Florence...
by way of London!
It happened that Natasha Makarova was staging "La Bayadere"
in London, so she bought me an airline
ticket to fly there and then go on to Italy. I boarded the plane, with my little travelling bag in my hand,
as I set off on yet another of life's little
journeys! At long last, I was getting out! However, the KGB did send one of their
agents to the airport, who smiled at me and asked:
"Can we expect you back, Alia Yevgenyeva?"
"Not now or never," I replied, also smiling. Although I was
joking, it actually wasn't far from the truth. I really didn't want to return. (And, as it
turned out, I've been living here in Florence
for the last five years, all thanks to Rudolf Nureyev.)
moves in mysterious ways. From London I went on
where my friends, unrepentant balletomanes, informed me upon
my arrival that Rudik was there
preparing for his opening night with the Communal Theatre Company in a couple of days. He was rehearsing "The Overcoat" by
Fleming Flint, based on the story by Gogol and set to
music by Shostakovich. I could hardly believe it Ч
after so many years! At last, I'd not only have the chance to talk to him
again, but also see him dance! Who could have thought up a
scenario to match this one? I dropped in on one of his
rehearsals... after more than 28 years! My mind was racing
wildly. What would we talk about? How would we meet? Did he know that I had never
disowned him and that I praised him as both a dancer and an individual? My thoughts were choking me. The
rehearsal came to an end. As Rudik walked over to the
footlights, so did 1.1 said: "Hello, Rudik!",
but can't remember if I said it
quietly or" if I shouted it out loud. The lights in the hall were still out, so he couldn't see me well. He peered
into the darkness: "Alla, is that you?". (Many people
can't figure out why I address him in the familiar "ty",
yet he addresses me in the formal "vy".
The reason for this is that when we first danced
together in Paris I was already an experienced ballerina, having danced "The Stone Flower", whereas he was
still a newcomer to the Kirov and so looked up to -+ had just never dropped to the level of
After the rehearsal, he took me out to lunch at
his hotel where we were joined by his friend, the ballet master Polyakov.
We talked and talked about many things,
both trivial and important. That evening, he phoned Rosa who was now living by herself at his house in Monte Carlo. He warned me
that her persecution complex which
had begun in Russia
was getting progressively worse and she might not remember me. He said that she constantly lived in fear, but we
thought we'd give it a try anyhow. At
first, she didn't recognize my voice. Then, I hit on something to jolt her memory. I said: "Rosa, do you need any sausages?" After some momentary confusion, she cried out:
"Alia, where are you? Where are you calling from?".
Rudik's face was really a sight when I put the receiver
down. "What was all that about
sausages?", he asked looking very perplexed. I
had no choice but to tell him about
one of the less happier episodes in our lives in Russia. Not that I was trying to make him feel guilty; I
simply told him how it had been.
here I am at the theatre watching Rudik in "The
Overcoat". I believe it's probably the most interesting ballet about Russia I've
ever seen. It's not just simply a Russian ballet; it's distinctly about Russia. And, I
was completely bowled over by Rudik's acting ability,
particularly in the duet with his new overcoat.
How he caressed it, as if it were a woman he loved and was afraid to lose. Yes, his performance in this ballet merits
a chapter all its own.
the time he was in Florence,
we saw each other just about every day, mostly at
the Strozzis, where we would have dinner together.
But then, the day came when he had to leave. It was June and I,
too, would soon have to return home. My "Florentinian Holidays" were coming to an end. Also
drawing near was my birthday Ч the same day twenty-seven
years ago that Rudolf had chosen to remain in Paris. It was now 1989 and Nureyev was the
head choreographer at Paris Opera while I was Ч to put
it bluntly Ч a retired ballerina with no income. Parting
for me wasn't easy. I half-hoped that everything could remain like this, but I'd long since stopped believing in miracles. We all get the Fate
that we deserve. Then, suddenly at the last minute, Rudik
said to me:
"Alla, how would you like to come with me
to Paris and
teach at the Opera there? We could celebrate the anniversary of June 16th and
your birthday at the same time. Would you like
to?" That's exactly how he said it, as if it were nothing at all. Just pure, simple, human benevolence.
"Rudik, you know I couldn't give lessons
there. I'm a rotten teacher. I'm
"I'll help you. I'll tell them all the Kirov's good points and all their bad points.
You'll come to my house on the sixteenth and the next
day you'll start giving lessons." The Strozzis helped me with a visa and everything else
connected with my trip to Paris, since I wasn't capable of doing
anything for myself. To this day, I'm hopeless at adjusting
to any new situation. So, the Strozzis were a great
then, I arrived in Paris.
At Rudik's apartment on the bank of
the River Seine, overlooking the Louvre. I found him playing away on his harpsichord and immediately flashed
back to his room on Ordinarnaya Street in Leningrad: a typical Soviet communal flat, which he shared
with Alla Sizova. And now,
here I was looking at a harpsichord, etchings and paintings on the walls
and, in the middle of it all, an outstanding
talent that life had rewarded with all he deserved. Rudik and I spent a simple, cozy evening together on June 16th of 1989, my
57th birthday. And, it took place in Paris. (When he defected,
I had just turned 29.) Rudik had also invited to
dinner some friends and journalists who remembered that fateful tour,
and who also remembered me! That evening was Rudik's present to me. The next day, I gave my first
lesson at Paris Opera. Rudik came with me to demonstrate an exercise, although I
think he really came along more to
lend me moral support. For which I thank you, Rudik.
After the lesson, we discussed what had been good about it and what
hadn't. I made new friends among my students
and got enormous pleasure out of working with them. The company that Rudik had put together was truly the best in the world.
But, at last, my time in.Paris came to an end.
Then, out of nowhere, Helene Trailine (who worked at the Opera and was herself a former dancer with the Monte Carlo Ballet Company) asked me: "Alla,
how would you like to go to Marika Bezobrazova's Academy in Monte Carlo?".
I was more used to being told
that I was going to be sent somewhere Ч whether it
was dancing at the Rays of the Red Collective Farm or, at
best, dancing in the capital of one of the Soviet Republics Ч than being asked if I wanted to do something.
I was so caught off-guard by the question that I
never even thought to ask who it was that actually wanted me there. It was only
when I arrived in Monte Carlo
and talked with Marika Bezobrazova that I
found out Rudik had phoned her and asked: "Marika, why don't
you take Osipenko on for the summer season at your
Academy? You know, she's really an
excellent teacher". That experience turned out to be one of the most interesting chapters of my life. And, never once
did Rudik breathe a word that he was the one
to intervene in our lives one last time when Ч either in 1990 or in 1991,1 don't remember exactly Ч Rudolf Nureyev once again
stepped out onto the Kirov
stage. What had the authorities proved by banishing him from Russia for
thirty years? And, by our isolation from the West?
What was it all for? What did our leaders hope to achieve by it? That they
could destroy art? No way! That they could destroy personality?
No way! Talent and personality proved themнselves stronger than our
"great" Communist Party and all its rotten laws. It's only now that we're able to talk about what the Kirov lost that one brief moment in Paris.
An outstanding phenomenon. A dancer
without equals. He enriched Western
ballet with his talent while our own was deprived of it. He breathed new life into the Paris Opera Ч when it had gone into
a period of temporary decline Ч and
turned it into the best in the world. He gave the world Silvie
Guillem, plucking, her from the corps de ballet and putting her in his
"Cinderella", which made her' a star. He staged "Swan
Quixote" and "Raymonda", retaining the
choreography of Petipa, Ivanov
and Gorsky, and only altered those bits he couldn't quite remember. He gave the West the
great traditions of Russian ballet. While back in his own country, all people
could say was: "He wanted to become a millionaire". And, thank God,
he did. He deserved it because of his unbounded love for the stage. For that was his home, his love and his life.