Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Xtraordinary Artists: Rudolf Nureyev

Xtraordinary Artists: Rudolf Nureyev

Jennifer Fandel
For ages 12 and up
The Creative Company, 2006   ISBN: 1583413084

Rudolf Nureyev’s family was extremely poor and when he was seven and went to school for the first time he was ridiculed and called a beggar by the other children in his class. That same year Rudolf saw a ballet for the first time and it had a profound effect on him. So much so that he never forgot it and years later he said that night he was certain

“I was born to dance.”

He began by practicing the local Russian folk dances as hard and as well as he could. Rudolf’s father was not in favor of this and used to beat and bully his son for his dancing. Refusing to be dissuaded, Rudolf kept at it and when he met a former professional dancer, he began his first ballet lessons at the advanced age of eleven. Finally, at the age of seventeen Rudolf was able to get out of the provinces and he made his way to Leningrad where he got into the prestigious Leningrad School of Ballet. Rudolf was six years behind his class mates and most of his teachers thought that he didn’t have a chance.

Certainly Rudolf struggled. He was impetuous and he got into trouble all the time. His form was poor and he insisted on dancing in his own way which meant that he clashed with his teachers. But, thanks to hard work and teachers who did their best to help him develop and learn, Rudolf progressed and did well, getting good roles in important ballet performances. Then, at last, ballet companies began to ask him to come to dance for them as a soloist and Rudolf knew that his professional career had begun. As a soloist at the Kirov Ballet at the age of twenty Rudolf became a star.

This is a fascinating account of the life of a man whose contribution to the world of dance was enormous and whose zest for life was seemingly never-ending. Jennifer Fandel tells a wonderful story and the quotes that are found throughout the book give her account an added dimension of intimacy and realism. Photographs of Rudolph Nureyev at work and at play fill the pages and at the back of the book there are excerpts from his 1962 autobiography and a 1970 New York Times interview which will give readers some idea of what he was like as a person and as a dancer.