Rudolf Nureyev: Ballet’s Champion
By Cindy Stockamp
1961 was a pivotal year for the fine arts from a media stand point. Up until then, reviews, commentaries, advertisements or just basic information were usually relegated to the fine arts publications and channels. However, on June 16, 1961, the Art of Ballet was on the front page of newspapers all around the world because that was the day that Rudolf Nureyev defected from the Soviet Union . His dramatic departure to the West, in essence, created its own Cold War crisis and turned him into a celebrity overnight. This, however, was just the beginning. Nureyev, a Russian dancer known for his ground breaking contributions to the world ...view middle of the document...
His mother, Farida Nureyeva, and his three older sisters were on their way to Vladivostok to see her husband, Hamat, who was a political officer in the Red Army and was stationed at that port city as a political commissar. Despite being eight and a half months pregnant, Farida was excited to be reunited with her husband so she decided not to delay her trip until after Rudolf was born. Thus Rudolf was born on the Trans-Siberian train .
What is interesting about the time period in which Nureyev was born is that he was born during one of the most volatile periods in Russian history. Russia was facing the final stages of the Great Terror and little did the world know it was getting ready for the second Great War. Nureyev was born in the same month that Germany annexed Austria and Stalin held the third of his famous or in actuality “infamous” trials where seventeen prominent Bolsheviks were convicted and executed. One of the most notable convictees was Nikolai Bukharin. 1938 was the year that Stalin essentially consolidated all power into his absolute rule using purges, intimidation and terror. This is significant because it defined the Russia that Nureyev would grow up in and the one he would eventually come to challenge.
To grow up in Nureyev’s Russia in the years leading up to and after World War II meant one lived in constant fear. As Nikita Khrushchev noted, “Everywhere and in everything Stalin saw ‘enemies’, ‘two-facers and spies’.” Families were made to distrust one another and in reward for turning someone over you were seen as patriotic towards Russia and especially Stalin. Stalin’s head of the NKVD, Nikolai Yezhov, was seen as an evil man who helped put fear into all people. Known as the period of yezhovschina, people were taken from their homes late at night and never seen again. The only person during this time who probably did not live with this fear was Stalin himself. By the time Nureyev’s mother and siblings got on the train to Vladivostok millions of people had been removed and sent to Siberian camps or killed. By 1938, cultural influences and people had been persecuted and science had been replaced by Socialist Realism. Stalin’s Soviet Party was the sole authority for anything regarding the fine arts, literature, music, etc. In essence the intellects of the time were afraid to breath for fear of gaining Stalin’s notice but they still wanted recognition and rewards too.
While Nureyev may have been born during horrific times of the purges, great terror and the early years of the intelligentsia’s censorship, that did not mean his parents did not believe they could not create a brighter future for their children. Already life was better for the Nureyev family of 1938 than it was for the poor peasant family of Hamat Nureyev (originally Fasliyev), Rudolf’s father, in 1903. Rudolf would be raised to be proud of his Muslim-Tatar heritage and he took great pride in his lineage. He identified as a Tatar and not...