Alexander Bland profiled Rudolf Nureyev for the Observer Magazine of 2 July 1972 (‘Nureyev: the Leap that Lasted’) on the eve of the London premiere of the first full-length film about him, I Am a Dancer. The leap in the headline referred to his defection to the west from Russia in 1961 when he was in a touring troupe in Paris.
Nureyev, then 33, was a global phenomenon, who ‘would make the international headlines if he fell off a bicycle’, wrote Bland. Amazingly there were those who had predicted a ‘quick decline into obscurity’, but he’d been a superstar for 11 years. His ‘softest smile seems to hint at hidden daggers. It was this mixture of gentleness and potential violence that led many writers to compare him to a jungle cat, and it exerts a potent sex-appeal’.
There is just one direct quote from Nureyev. ‘He has neither the time nor inclination to look backwards. “That’s old news,” he will say dismissively.’ But Bland didn’t let this deter him. ‘To pin down a character whose charisma is manifestly founded on mystery is impossible,’ he admitted, ‘but it includes three clear ingredients – menace, energy and elusiveness.’
There was his prodigious work rate, too. ‘He rarely takes a holiday of more than three days, fits more performances into a week than some dancers manage in a month (a recent count listed 50 different roles with 25 different companies) and he even contrives to create as he goes.’
One of the picture captions suggests his temperament may have been impacted by the circumstances of his birth: ‘Dame Margot Fonteyn, born in Surrey, talks to Rudolf Nureyev, born in a train near Mongolia.’
‘The mystery is that his personality is so contradictory and yet makes such a coherent whole,’ concluded Bland. ‘He puts more into life than an ordinary man. No wonder he gets more out of it.’