On the 17 March 1938, a Transiberian train thundered across the bleak Russian landscape, heading for Vladivostok. On board was a pregnant young woman by the name of Farida, on her way to visit her husband, Hamat, a political commissar of the Red Army, stationed in Vladivostok. The journey became eventful as Farida went into labour and gave birth to her baby, a son, whilst on the train. Little could she have imagined that her baby boy would grow up to become famous throughout the world, to be regarded as the greatest ballet dancer ever seen.
Rudolph Khametovich Nureyev was brought up in Bashkira, a village of the Soviet Republic. As a child Nureyev was encouraged to take part in the local folk dances. Such was the intensity of his enthusiasm, and obvious talent, that his teachers persuaded him to go to Leningrad and train as a dancer. Whilst on tour with a local ballet group Rudolph was offered a place at the famous Bolshoi Ballet, but he chose to aim even higher and set his sights on the Kirov Ballet, regarded as Russia's best. Due to the disruption of the Second World War, it was not until 1955, at the age of 17, that he was enrolled in the Leningrad School, an associate of the Kirov Ballet.
During a three year spell at the Kirov, Nureyev danced mostly opposite Ninel Kurgapkina, ten years his senior, a pairing which quickly became noticed for its excellence. By now Nureyev was a rising star and this earned him a trip to Vienna, where he performed at the International Youth Festival.
Nureyev's big break came in 1961, when the Kirov went on tour in Europe. Konstantin Sergeyev, Kirov's leading dancer was injured and his place was taken by Nureyev. In Paris he proved to be a sensation but was ordered to return to Russia by the KGB who became worried he was becoming far to friendly with the foreigners, forbidden under the rules of the tour. Nureyev was aware that KGB agents had been investigating him and feared if he returned to the USSR he would be imprisoned. On 16 June 1961, at the Le Bourget Airport in Paris, Rudolph Nureyev defected. Within a week he was signed up by Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, performing 'The Sleeping Beauty' with Nina Vyroubova.
Whilst on tour in Denmark Nureyev met his soul mate Erick Bruhn, a dancer who became his lover, his closest friend and his protector for many years.
Nureyev's first appearance in Britain was at a ballet matinee organised by The Royal Ballet's Prima Ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn. He was then offered a contract to join The Royal Ballet as principal dancer. His first appearance with the company was in 'Giselle' on 21 February 1962, dancing opposite Margot Fonteyn, The partnership between them was to become legendary. In 1970, Nureyev was promoted to Principal Guest Artist, enabling him to concentrate on his increasing schedule of international guest appearances, including regular appearances with The Royal Ballet, until committing his future to the Paris Opera Ballet in the 1980s. However, the late 1980s saw his admirers disappointed, now fifty years old Nureyev's diminished capabilities became obvious and he was unable to perform with the outstanding prowess of his younger years.
Towards the end of his life, in the later stages of AIDS, he worked on productions for the Paris Opera Ballet. His last work was a production of La Bayadere which closely follows the Kirov ballet version he danced as a young man.
At his last appearance, a 1992 production of La Bayadere he received a standing ovation and was presented with the Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France's highest cultural award. He died in Paris a few months later, aged 54.