|Intl. Notebook||Jun 17 2009|
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.