The Nureyev Foundation, in conformance with Nureyev’s wishes, selected the cncs to house the Nureyev Collection. The permanent exhibition, designed by Ezio Frigerio, dedicated to the Nureyev Collection, commemorates the exceptional career of this great 20th century dancer, his work as choreographer, his lifestyle, his taste for opulent interior decoration, his passion as collector (objects, furniture, textiles) and his love of music.
Nureyev played a major role in the evolution of male dance in the 20th century. He kept the force and technique of the classical dancer but refined them to an extreme. From the beginning of his career he reworked the major male roles to give them more importance and virtuosity. He interprets his roles as an actor, with charisma and dramatic truth. After him, this type of interpretation became the rule for all male dancers.
Rudolf Nureyev attached great importance to his own costumes and those of his productions. On stage he sought to put his body to best advantage without hampering his movement. In order to lengthen his line, he abandoned the short pants worn for modesty's sake, and wore only tights, which showed off his legwork to better advantage. Then, to free his movement even more, he shortened the line of the doublets to just above the waist. Little by little, the characteristics of his costume became clearer, and by the 1960s a model for a doublet evolved which would be the base for all his future costumes, no matter what the style of the production.
During his career he remounted or created around fifteen ballets, most of which are still danced today by the most prestigious dance companies. These productions are sometimes very close to the original choreographies, as is the case of La Bayadère, which had previously been unknown in the West. In other cases they are given a new interpretation, as in Cinderella, which Nureyev chose to place in the America of the 1930s. He also created new one-act ballets, which are witness to his insatiable cultural appetite. He was often inspired by music (Bach Suite) or by literature (Manfred,The Tempest, Washington Square).
Sets and costumes frame the dance and the dancers, for whom nothing is too beautiful or rich, especially when the choreographies of Marius Petipa are concerned. Nureyev’s imagination was nourished by the splendor of tsarist Russia, the sumptuous productions of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and the aesthetics of the films by Visconti and Zeffirelli. Nureyev loved generous, sumptuous productions, bountiful as ceremonies. He worked with designers who shared his taste and vision: Barry Kay, Nicholas Georgiadis, Martin Kamer, Ezio Frigerio, Petrika Ionesco…
At the end of his life, Nureyev possessed seven properties around the world: an apartment in a town house at 23 Quai Voltaire in Paris, another in The Dakota in New York, a farm in Virginia, a house in London, villas in Saint-Barthélémy and in Monte Carlo and another on Li Galli islands in Italy. Nureyev was a true nomad, dancing on stages worldwide, and did not live much in his residences. These served however as homes to the collections which he amassed compulsively all during his life in the West. The Paris apartment, bought in 1979 was the place Nureyev lived in most. Emilio Carcano, interior decorator and theater designer, created an opulent, theatrical interior around the furniture.
As if to divide the intention into two distinct parts: the body and its settings, the collection of paintings and etchings may be interpreted in two themes. For the paintings, exclusively male portraits and mainly nudes from the 19th century, what is sought is not the beauty of lines – those of the human material that are dancers for a choreography suffice – but the force of the compact silhouettes, workshop and study work perhaps for mythological scenes.
For the etchings, mostly dating from the 16th and 18th centuries, we are surprised to find none, or almost none, with only one or two exceptions containing subjects relating to dance. The drawings and views of the town and monuments remind us of the wandering of this eternal traveler who liked to recall that he was born on a train … Two series are significant, the etchings by Lodovico Burnacini for Il Fuoco eterno and those by Coypel for Don Quixote. The Collection is made up of one hundred works (including 7 paintings).
Nureyev was a passionate collector of fabrics and rugs, which he bought during his tours and kept in piles in those houses in America and Europe. He collected kaftans, kimonos, brocades and cashmeres, but above all, he wore them in private. At the top of the list of his passions were kilims, the woolen rugs woven in the Caucasus and in central Asia. At the end of his life, Nureyev possessed hundreds of them, mostly piled up under his furniture.
Nureyev’s fame began as soon as he defected in 1961. The event was heavily covered by the media. This coverage continued between 1962 and 1965 while he danced at the Royal Opera House in London with Margo Fonteyn. Fame would follow him for the rest of his life. His career coincided with the emergence of mass culture: he danced for television, appeared in the tabloid press, and acted in two films (Valentino in 1977 and Exposed in 1991).
Music was one of Nureyev’s true passions. It led him quite naturally to dance and remained present during his entire life. Nureyev’s dancing was characterized by a deep musical sensibility and the capacity to transmit each nuance of the musical score. Early on, Nureyev expressed an interest in conducting, and he was encouraged in this by Karl Böhm, Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein in the 1970s. In 1990 he plunged into orchestra conducting with the same passion as for the dance. His career as conductor lasted little more than a year, but it is an astonishing one because of the number of concerts he gave, considering his inexperience and his illness.
Rudolf Nureyev, suffering from AIDS, passed away in Paris on June 6th, 1993. According to his last wishes he was laid to rest in the Russian Cemetery at Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois in the Paris region. The civil ceremony took place on January 12th, 1993 at the Palais Garnier.
Entirely covered in Mosaic, his tombstone represents the kilim oriental rug that was so dear to the artist. It was created by the set designer Ezio Frigerio who had worked with Nureyev on several occasions.