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Nureyev's was a life of drama and dance

Rudolf Nureyev was a troubled man, a difficult friend, and an undisputed talent.

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On arriving in England, he was soon ensconced with Maude and Nigel Gosling. Maude, a former dancer, wrote dance reviews with Nigel under the pseudonym Alexander Bland. They became lifelong friends. After Nigel's death, Rudolf looked after Maude, and she tenderly cared for him during his illness.

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Nureyev was not an easy friend. He was even rude to his greatest partner, Margot Fonteyn. The older dancer gave a finish and an "English" elan to his still-emerging technique and style, while Nureyev reinvigorated and extended her career. For all her sweetness and purity onstage, Fonteyn was tough. Yet he could reduce her to tears in rehearsal. Still, they were loyal to each other till the end.

Dancer Violette Verdy said of Nureyev in 1986, "I'm convinced that his greatest years as a choreographer are still ahead when he has totally removed himself as a performer." This is poignant, as he died soon after producing the only work in which he did not perform, "La Bayadere," by Marius Petipa, for the Paris Opera Ballet.

The sadness of a talented life cut off early permeates the book. Nureyev's homosexual relationships, the brutal anonymity of 70s gay culture, and his passing from AIDS in 1993 are discussed at length. Too much length.

And dance becomes too academic. Kavanagh can give the pedigree of a work, the emotion behind a special curtain call, or the psycho-historical meaning of a pose. But she doesn't describe Nureyev in motion or attempt to portray the joy he must have taken in being airborne.

She does, however, give the intriguing life inside a ballet. Discussing Nureyev's production of "Sleeping Beauty" for the National Ballet of Canada, dancer Frank Augustyn says, "It was like jumping into a kangaroo's pouch. Rudolf knew exactly what he wanted to do and he was going to take us along with him. From the most arrogant to the shyest and most insecure dancer there – we all felt the same way. Something was happening that we'd never experienced before, and we knew it was going to be a wonderful ride."

[Editor's note: The original version misspelled the name of the book's author.]

Maggie Lewis is a former dance critic for the Monitor.