She nails it: Jennifer Homans on the Nureyev bio

Not to beat a dead horse–okay, to beat it–here’s Jennifer Homans’ review for the New Republic of the Nureyev bio that Foot in Mouth loves to hate. It’s not that Homans agrees with ME– that Nureyev was one of the greatest dancers–because she doesn’t. It’s that she both identifies the many problems with Julie Kavanagh’s humongous and silly book, and proposes her own fascinating reading of Nureyev’s life–why he might matter (something that escapes Kavanagh, even with a canvas of 700 pages).
Here are some enticing tidbits, in no particular order:

Nureyev was not always performing his sex life. Sometimes he was just dancing, and Kavanagh badly underestimates the capacity of art to be its own cause.


Nureyev’s story was not at all the triumphant Cold War fable beloved of the media. On the contrary, it was testimony to the psychological and artistic scars inflicted by defection and exile–but also by freedom and fame. Defection set Nureyev free, but it destroyed his life and his dancing.


At unguarded moments Nureyev admitted that he was desperately lonely. He never fully mastered English, but neither did he spend much time with other Russian artists or emigres (he even shied from speaking his native tongue to Russian restaurant waiters, embarrassed by his provincial accent), preferring instead to forge ahead with a trail of adoring fans in tow. It was a linguistically and emotionally constricted life that contrasts painfully with the more open and personal relationships that he seems to have had in his Leningrad years. And if the Western press held Nureyev up as an exemplar of sexual and sartorial “liberation,” they were in part missing the point: his profligacy was also tied to vengeance, fear, and what Ninette de Valois (a sturdy Irishwoman and founder of the Royal Ballet) called “the hysterical effect of freedom.”


[I]t was not just that Nureyev made Fonteyn young again; they also stayed old together. As ballet in New York and London turned in more experimental directions, Fonteyn and Nureyev danced “the classics” over and again. Together they helped to make ballet a newly popular mass art, and they did it, paradoxically, by living in the past.

And, finally,

Kavanagh has done lots of research, although it should be said that much of it retraces [biographer Diane] Solway’s well-laid path. (Kavanagh even reproduces one of Solway’s chapter titles.) But she has done very little thinking. “Authorized” is no guarantee of insight, and Kavanagh’s lengthy and effusive acknowledgments are far from reassuring: she has extensive debts, many of them to Nureyev’s society-page devotees.
[B]y focusing so hard on Nureyev’s private life, Julie Kavanagh has not taken us any closer to the truth about why he mattered. Instead she reduces his art to the tedious and sordid details of his life. The people who “authorized” her book got what they asked for. The rest of us will wonder why we should care.

For the whole amazing article: here.
[Nureyev mania on Foot began with this commentary on the PBS documentary of his youthful days in Leningrad, moved on to outrage, as noted above, at the reviews of Julie Kavanagh’s new mammoth biography that used the occasion to trash Nureyev, and relief at both this review and finally another that did more justice to the man than the bio itself.]

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