Plaque Sponsor

Politan - Donza Group

1938 - 1993

“The main thing is dancing, and before it withers away from my body, I will keep dancing till the last moment, the last drop.”

– Rudolf Nureyev

The greatest male dancer of the 1960s/1970s was born on a Trans-Siberian train to Asiatic Tartar parents. When his mother smuggled him into a performance of the ballet ‘Song of the Cranes,’ Nureyev fell in love with dance. After studying ballet at the Vaganova Choreographic Institute in Leningrad, he joined the Kirov Ballet as a soloist in 1958. During the company’s tour to Paris in 1961 he defected. As the first dancer to defect from the Soviet Union he became an instant celebrity. The same year, at Margot Fonteyn’s invitation, Nureyev danced at the Royal Ballet in London and thereafter became Fonteyn’s principal dancing partner. He was a sensation – combining an intensely romantic sensibility with stunning muscularity and technique. Ever the innovator, he became the first major ballet star to begin working regularly with established modern dance choreographers. Nureyev’s dance repertoire was enormous including all the classics as well as standards – and acquiring over 90 roles through appearances with over 30 major ballet and modern dance companies. He choreographed new versions of the ballets ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ‘Manfred,’ and ‘The Nutcracker’ – changing and expanding the roles of male dancers. Several films were made of his brilliant ballet performances including ‘I Am a Dancer’ (1972) and ‘Don Quixote’ (1972). He also acted in films, portraying the title role in Ken Russell’s ‘Valentino,’ and even toured the U.S. with a stage revival of ‘The King and I.’ From 1983 to 1989 he was the artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet.  Nureyev died of complications from HIV in 1993 at the age of 54. He is among the most famous male ballet dancers of the 20th-century and an icon in the LGBT community.

Plaque Sponsor

Politan - Donza Group

Lesson Plan


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Nations Affiliated Russia France Austria United Kingdom

Era/Epoch AIDS Era (1980-present) Cold War (1945-1991) Information Age (1970-present) Soviet Union (1922-1991)

Field(s) of Contribution

Art, Music, Literature & Theater



Media & Communications

Social Sciences



US History

World History

Commemorations & Honors

Rudolf Nureyev's Name Reentered in the History of Mariinsky Ballet in St Petersburg; Russia

Permanent Collection of Nureyev's Costumes at Centre National du Costume de Scene in Paris (2013)


Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Biography Vetted, Edited, and Certified By
Dr. Susan Manning Professor of English
and Performance Studies Northwestern University
Image Rights Usage Granted By
Corbis Images
Image Source for Bronze Casting
Corbis Images
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell