Intl. Notebook Jun 17 2009
THE FORBIDDEN DANCE
Rudolph Nureyev’s defection from the Soviet Union fascinated the world—and changed his life forever.

One of the more interesting pulp events of the 1960s occurred when a little-known ballet dancer named Rudolph Nureyev broke away from two Russian guards at Le Bourget airport in Paris and dashed through a security station shouting in English, “I want to be free!” His sprint into Western arms made him internationally known, rocked the dance world, and strained relations between the Soviet Union and France. It was one of the first high-profile defections, and the inside story had all the pulp elements we love best—secret romance, political intrigue, lots of headlines, and a fascinating personality at the heart of it all.

For three weeks prior Nureyev had been performing in Paris with his troupe, the Leningrad Kirov Ballet, and in his off hours enjoying the City of Light with society friends. News of these associations had filtered back to Moscow and, concerned, Soviet authorities decided to summon Nureyev back to the motherland for a chat. For two weeks they had trying to get him sent home, but Kirov directors and the Soviet embassy in Paris had been deliberately unhelpful. Finally, on the day the Kirov was supposed to board a flight to London for the next leg of their tour, two Soviet security guards intercepted Nureyev and told him he was wanted in Moscow. His dash for freedom minutes later set off a chain of events that would end with him receiving asylum in France.

Most assumed Nureyev had been thinking of defection for quite a while, but Soviet records declassified in the late 90s suggest he planned to return home. There were rumors he had fallen in love with a beautiful Chilean heiress named Clara Saint—in fact, this story was reported in much of the Western press—but in reality Nureyev was gay and had been seriously involved with a male dancer from Leningrad named Taja Kremke. It was Kremke who convinced Nureyev his talent would never flourish in the Soviet Union, but still, left to continue his tour with the Kirov, Nureyev likely would have flown home at its completion. Despite his general unhappiness, it seems to be the actual arrival of the security guards that triggered his defection. When the guards appeared he immediately knew he was in deep trouble and feared returning to Moscow meant he would not be allowed to dance anymore.

News of the defection broke huge. The West gleefully used it deride the Soviets, who had been riding high on the triumph of sending the first human into space two months earlier. Soon the Clara Saint story began to be widely reported. But it soon became obvious neither politics nor love had been the primary trigger of the event, but a burning desire to dance and live unhindered. Nureyev got his wish—residing in the West he expanded his dance repertoire and acted in motion pictures. He also tookadvantage of his more permissive surroundings by pursuing relationships with famous men such as Tab Hunter, Eric Bruhn, and Anthony Perkins, and by posing for a very famous set of nude photos exposing his celebrated endowment. But he lost almost as much as he gained—he was completely cut off from his family back in Russia, and didn’t see his mother again until she was dying. Nureyev himself began to die from AIDS around 1990, and finally succumbed January 6, 1993. He was perhaps the greatest ballet dancer of the twentieth century, and the event that forever changed his life happened today in 1961.  

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
February 27
1922—Challenge to Women's Voting Rights Rebuffed
In the United States, a conservative legal challenge to the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishing voting rights for women is rebuffed by the Supreme Court in Leser v. Garnett. The challenge was based partly on the idea of individual "states rights" to self determination. The failure of such reasoning as it applied to basic human rights created a framework for later states rights losses involving the denial of voting rights to African-Americans.
February 26
1917—First Jazz Record Is Made
In New Orleans, The Original Dixieland Jass Band records the first ever jazz record for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York. The band was frequently billed as the "Creators of Jazz", but in reality all the members had previously played in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a group of racially mixed performers who helped form the basis of Dixieland while playing under bandleader George Laine.
February 25
1947—Prussia Ceases To Exist
The centuries-old state of Prussia, which had been a great European power under the reign of Frederick the Great during the 1800s, and a major influence on German culture, ceases to exist when it is dissolved by the post-WWII Allied Control Council comprised of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.
1964—Clay Beats Liston
Heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, aged 22, becomes champion of the world after beating Sonny Liston, aka the Dark Destroyer, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. It would be the beginning of a storied and controversial career for Clay, who would announce to the world shortly after the fight that he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
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