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Legacy: Rudolf Nureyev

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Legacy: Rudolf Nureyev

”Any time you dance,” Rudolf Nureyev once said, ”what you do must be sprayed with your blood.” The 54-year-old dancer, who died Jan. 6 in a hospital near Paris after a ”grievous illness” that many of his friends said was AIDS, revolutionized the ballet world in 1961 with his defection to the West from the Soviet Union. Not since another Russian, Vaslav Nijinsky, created a sensation half a century earlier had ballet been so energized.

Born in Siberia to a Tatar family, Nureyev studied at the Kirov Ballet school in Leningrad. Known for unruliness in his student days, he projected an electrifying presence and animal passion in such classic ballets as Giselle and Swan Lake. Following his defection, he put men back on the map in ballet, long a ballerina’s showcase. The partnership he soon forged with Dame Margot Fonteyn, who was almost twice his age, became legend. Leaping across the stage like a panther, he brought sex and excitement back into the big classical ballets.

At the height of ”Rudimania,” Nureyev became notorious for everything from an outrageous fashion sense to his hauteur and moodiness. Quickly adapting to modern-dance choreographers in the West, he appeared in works by Martha Graham and Paul Taylor and produced his own versions of The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. His movie-acting career, however, which included Valentino (1977) and Exposed (1983), never took off: The stage presence never transferred to the screen.

Those who had the chance to see Nureyev dance in his prime still marvel at the memory of it. He did something no other dancer of the century, except for Nijinsky, managed: He made love to space right in front of thousands of watching eyes. A little of Nureyev at his peak has been preserved on video. These are the essentials:

*I AM A DANCER (1972) A comprehensive visual document of Nureyev taking class, rehearsing, talking about his work, and dancing an absolutely spellbinding series of solos from Les Sylphides. B+

*DON QUIXOTE (1973) An old Russian warhorse rechoreographed by Nureyev: bravura stuff, sprayed with blood. B+

*FONTEYN AND NUREYEV: THE PERFECT PARTNERSHIP (1986) Rare footage that includes their signature ballet, Marguerite and Armand. A-

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