Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Defection of Rudolf Nureyev

PhotobucketOn this day in 1961 Russian-born ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev defected at Le Bourget Airport in Paris, slipping away from embassy guards and dashing through a security barrier, exclaiming to nearby gendarmes: I want to be free.

Rudi's nocturnal activities in the bohemian underworlds of Moscow and St. Petersburg had come to the attention of the KGB, so when the Kirov Ballet's principal male dancer Konstantin Sergeyev injured himself, Nureyev used his own ballet training to leap at the chance to replace him on an international tour.

As the first major cultural figure to choose exile over life in the Soviet Union, Nureyev's defection was big news around the world in those dark days at the height of the Cold War, exactly the kind of notoriety the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas was looking for; within a week he became the principal dancer of that company, performing The Sleeping Beauty with Nina Vyroubova.

For those he left behind, though, the situation was quite different; their friendship with the star put them under a cloud of suspicion, and not even Nureyev's own mother escaped unscathed. They wouldn't meet again until Mikhail Gorbachev consented to let him return in 1989, when she was dying.
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