“The main thing is dancing, and before it withers away
from my body, I will keep dancing till the last moment,
the last drop.”
While involved in all these dance activities, Nureyev made time to act in two films, Valentino and Exposed: neither of them, unfortunately, very good, though he upheld his roles well, explaining that he found little difficulty in a non-dancing role because much of ballet involves acting.
But dancing was always his main concern and he took every opportunity, performing every night on long tours or during extended London seasons (these also gave wider exposure to major companies from America, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan and Switzerland).
Additionally, he invented a new format, “Nureyev and Friends”, to give programmes of works with small, specially assembled casts, the first of them for a Broadway run and later elsewhere.
This enabled him, when his stamina declined with age, to present himself in roles needing drama or plasticity while letting others take the technically more demanding parts. He also moved on to different roles in longer ballets: the old toymaker Dr Coppelius, or parts made specially for him in The Overcoat and Death in Venice. The very last new role he took, not long before his death, was the mimed part of Carabosse in a new Berlin production of his Sleeping Beauty.
Before that he had already branched out in a new sphere, as an orchestral conductor. Some of his many musician friends had suggested this to him, knowing of his devotion to music, and he took serious coaching for it. He gave some concerts with a Viennese orchestra and serious critics thought he showed a good flair and understanding for some works. In New York he conducted a gala performance of Romeo and Juliet for American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House and was applauded by the players.
Conducting seemed to offer a fresh career, and in addition he had plans for creating several further ballets. Unfortunately his declining health prevented this. Within a year or so of becoming director in Paris, he had been diagnosed as HIV positive. At that time, because of the often slow development of Aids, medical opinion was that only a few of those with the virus would develop the disease, but gradually that view had to be abandoned. None the less, Nureyev’s determination enabled him to continue working for a long time, and later he was given such experimental treatment as was available.
8th October 1992 – Last “Bayadère” at the Paris Opera
With time, sadly, he weakened, and his final production for the Paris Opéra was completed only with painful difficulty, helped by the colleagues he trusted. This staging of La Bayadère (it had long been his wish to mount it) proved one of his most successful ballets, but photographs of him at the premiere revealed to the world how ill he had become.
Even then he hoped to go on working but his strength went and he died in Paris on 6 January 1993.
His legs (as he once put it – others would say his talent, intelligence and hard work) had made him a rich man. He enjoyed having several homes on both sides of the Atlantic, with collections of paintings, other art objects and musical instruments he liked playing. But, after making provision for his two surviving sisters and their families, he left everything to two foundations for benefiting ballet, helping young dancers and promoting dancers’ health. Moreover, he left grateful memories in untold numbers who had watched or worked with him, and who knew that the whole world of dance was richer and stronger for his life.