Strong but skinny, or rather, skinny but strong,
I practise till the cows come home
Back in Berkshire. I’ve moved into town.
Legs and butt start looking great in tights.
The days are mirrors, wall to wall, behind barres…
Margot appears in our boys’ class.
Come, she says, I need to practise for Giselle.
Have we heard correctly?
Yes. She beckons…me, and maybe Nick.
She offers hands. Each cups her underneath.
We lift, that is, she flies up into our palms.
Release the hands. Above, she lifts her arms.
Then she alights, she thanks us, then is gone.
Later, from the wings, I watch her swan.
Rudi threatens Von Rothbart, slips his crossbow
Just behind the flat, kneels on stage
To catch her in full flight. Then Rothbart’s back
On the ramp again. Crossbow, quick –
And Rudi has it but – it’s caught behind my leg
And there’s a crack, and he says ‘Shit’ in Russian
As I leap aside so that he can leap onstage and aim,
Crossbow mercifully intact. Thankful for that,
I retire to the peasants’ basement dressing-room,
As Tchaikovsky culminates over the tannoy.
Excerpts of a letter Rudolf Nureyev wrote, to the dance community about his own life as a dancer, while dying of AIDS:
“It was the smell of my skin changing, it was getting ready before class, it was running away from school and after working in the fields with my dad because we were ten brothers, walking those two kilometers to dance school.
I would never have been a dancer, I couldn’t afford this dream, but I was there, with my shoes worn on my feet, with my body opening to music, with the breath making me above the clouds. It was the sense I gave to my being, it was standing there and making my muscles words and poetry, it was the wind in my arms, it was the other guys like me that were there and maybe wouldn’t be dancers, but we swapped the sweat, silences, barely.
For thirteen years I studied and worked, no auditions, nothing, because I needed my arms to work in the fields. But I didn’t care: I learned to dance and dance because it was impossible for me not to do it, it was impossible for me to think I was elsewhere, not to feel the earth transforming under my feet plants, impossible not to get lost in music, impossible not not to get lost in music using my eyes to look in the mirror, to try new steps.
Everyday I woke up thinking about the moment I would put my feet inside my slippers and do everything by tasting that moment. And when I was there, with the smell of camphor, wood, tights, I was an eagle on the rooftop of the world, I was the poet among poets, I was everywhere and I was everything.
I remember a ballerina Elèna Vadislowa, rich family, well taken care of, beautiful. She wanted to dance as much as I did, but later I realized it wasn’t like that. She danced for all the auditions, for the end of the course show, for the teachers watching her, to pay tribute to her beauty.
Two years prepared for the Djenko contest. The expectations were all about her. Two years she sacrificed part of this life. She didn’t win the contest. She stopped dancing, forever. She didn’t resist. That was the difference between me and her. I used to dance because it was my creed, my need, my words that I didn’t speak, my struggle, my poverty, my crying. I used to dance because only there my being broke the limits of my social condition, my shyness, my shame.
I used to dance and I was with the universe in my hands, and, while I was at school, I was studying, arraising the fields at six am, my mind endured because it was drunk with my body capturing the air.
I was poor, and they paraded in front of me, guys performing for pageants, they had new clothes, they made trips. I didn’t suffer from it, my suffering would have been stopping me from entering the hall and feeling my sweat coming out of the pores of my face. My suffering would have been not being there, not being there, surrounded by that poetry that only the sublimation of art can give.
I was a painter, poet, sculptor. The first dancer of the year-end show got hurt. I was the only one who knew every move because I drank in, quietly, every step. They made me wear his new, shiny clothes and dictated me after thirteen years, the responsibility to demonstrate. Nothing was different in those moments I danced on stage, I was like in the hall with my clothes off. I was and I used to perform, but it was dancing that I cared.
The applause reached me far away. Behind the scenes, all I wanted was to take off the uncomfortable tights, but everyone’s compliments and I had to wait. My sleep wasn’t different from other nights. I had danced and whoever was watching me was just a cloud far away on the horizon.
From that moment my life changed, but not my passion and need to dance. I kept helping my dad in the fields even though my name was on everyone’s mouth. I became one of the brightest stars in dance.
Now I know I’m going to die, because this disease doesn’t forgive, and my body is trapped in a pram, blood doesn’t circulate, I lose weight. But the only thing that goes with me is my dance my freedom to be. I’m here, but I dance with my mind, fly beyond my words and my pain. I dance my being with the wealth I know I have and will follow me everywhere: that I have given myself the chance to exist above effort and have learned that if you experience tiredness and effort dancing, what if you dance sits for effort, if we pity our bleeding feet, if we chase only the aim and don’t understand the full and unique pleasure of moving, we don’t understand the deep essence of life, where the meaning is in its becoming and not in appearing.
Every man should dance, for life. Not being a dancer, but dancing. Who will never know the pleasure of walking into a hall with wooden bars and mirrors, who stops because they don’t get results, who always needs stimulus to love or live, hasn’t entered the depths of life, and will abandon every time life won’t give him what he wants. It’s the law of love: you love because you feel the need to do it, not to get something or to be reciprocated, otherwise you’re destined for unhappiness. I’m dying, and I thank God for giving me a body to dance so that I wouldn’t waste a moment of the wonderful gift of life.”
Thanks to Nick Graham for posting on FB
The title poem of my collection Dancers in Daylight is inspired by my own memories of this legendary dancer.