November/December 2000 issue
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The Dancer Who Flew: A Memoir of Rudolf Nureyev by Linda Maybarduk; Tundra Books: Toronto, 1999; $18.95
When I was nine years old, I was in a musical at the local university in my town, the University of Michigan. My friends in the cast and I would stand in the wings and watch the dancers onstage, awed by the gracefulness and majesty they created. We would try to imitate the dances backstage, trying to get every lift and every spin just right. The dances were incredibly difficult for people of our age and size, but somehow we managed to do all of them. There was one lift I did where I would actually fly through the air like a bird. Once I was so overcome I fell on the ground laughing with delight.
I’ve read many books about dance, but this is the only one I have ever read that captures the passion of dance. I expected another book listing dates of famous dances and who played what role. Instead I received an emotional book which reflected my own feelings for dancing, and which made me want to throw down the book and dance.
The Dancer Who Flew: A Memoir of Rudolf Nureyev by Linda Maybarduk is a biography of Rudolf Nureyev, who changed dancing forever. Linda Maybarduk was Rudolf’s personal friend, so she told a lot about her own experiences with him, which made the book much more personal and touching.
Rudolf grew up in the communist country of Russia, where his family was struggling to make ends meet. For much of his childhood, his father was away at war, so his mother had to work twice as hard. While his father was away, Rudolf discovered dancing when his mother took him to a ballet on New Year’s Eve. From then on he became obsessed with ballet. Rudolf’s father was not at all supportive of his son’s dreams and ambitions when he returned from the war. So on his own money and willpower, Rudolf auditioned for the Leningrad Ballet School in Russia and made it.
While he was at the Leningrad Ballet School, Rudolf and his friends would sneak out of the school late at night and dance. They would chase each other around trying to jump faster, higher, or farther than the other. This was my favorite part of the book because the author expresses their love for dance so wonderfully that I could so easily imagine three excited teenagers running around Leningrad dancing and laughing.
What I loved about the book was that it was so clear that this man was born to perform and loved every minute on stage. I could relate to this so well that sometimes I had to put down the book to think about my own experiences on stage. The author expressed how nervous he was before he went on stage, but then when he was there, he felt perfectly at home and happy. I’ve felt the same way, so overwhelmed I want to burst. When you know you are doing well and you are making people happy, it is the most effervescent and wonderful feeling. I could tell that Rudolf felt the same way, and I felt almost a connection to him, even though I never met him.
Rudolf often talked about the invisible energy that propelled him through so many performances, even years after he should have retired. I, too, have felt that same invisible energy and passion that draws me back to the stage time and time again. It’s really very simple. Despite hard work, performing is one of the best things on earth.