At Nureyev's graveside the beautiful grow old

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The Independent Online
IT WAS a curious farewell: a mixture of informality and precision, beauty and unpredictability, establishment and bohemia. In truth it was the most fitting tribute to someone who combined all those qualities in his art and life.

Paris remembered Rudolf Nureyev yesterday, and representatives from every corner of his life seemed to be at the graveside. His weeping sisters in funereal black were consoled by New York socialites in garish red, and watched by young men with flowing jet-black hair, dark glasses, necklaces and leather jackets.

Nureyev, who died of Aids at the age of 54 last week, was buried at the Russian emigres' cemetery among the ornate gravestones of counts and duchesses who had taken refuge in this city 40 years before he defected from the Kirov Ballet in 1961.

Just as striking and unconventional as the graveside scene was the ceremony in Nureyev's honour earlier in the day at the Opera de Paris, where Nureyev had led the city's ballet company after his greatest years with Margot Fonteyn at the Royal Ballet in London.

The ceremony of remembrance was held not on the stage in front of a seated audience but in the grandiose marbled foyer.

The coffin was taken to the top of the grand staircase by six principal dancers with the Paris company and there it was surrounded by various gamin looking youngsters in their jerkins and anoraks from the company's ecole de danse.

A small cushion bearing the insignia of a Commander of Arts and Letters - France's highest award for achievements in the arts - was placed two steps below the coffin. Invited guests all stood, some on the steps, some leaning over balconies, several dozen clustered round the mourners and small orchestra at the foot of the steps. Nureyev's friends read extracts from Byron, Pushkin, Goethe, Michelangelo and Rimbaud, and there was music by Bach and Tchaikovsky.

But there was really only one performance, and that not from an artist, but from Jack Lang, France's Minister of Culture, gesticulating animatedly in his effusive oration. The gods, he said, had put in Nureyev's constellation exceptional gifts: 'La beaute, la puissance, le gout de l'absolu . . . Il atteint une dimension mythique. Comme le phenix, il renait chaque matin apres s'etre extenue chaque soir.'

Nureyev had declared to him, 'Vouloir c'est pouvoir,' he added.

Among mourners, who included former dancing partners of Nureyev and friends such as the actress Leslie Caron, was a strong British contingent.

There was his London 'foster mother' and biographer, Maude Gosling, the director of the Royal Ballet, Anthony Dowell, the director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Peter Wright, as well as the former Royal Ballet stars Antoinette Sibley and Merle Park, and Sir John Tooley, the former general director at Covent Garden, who gave Nureyev his first contract in

Britain in 1962.

At the Russian cemetery in Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois scores of people lined up to throw white roses on to the coffin.

But there were few tears. Nureyev's friends had known for some time that he faced death. And its cause, among his circle, appears to be met with resignation and private grief, not displays of emotion.

Many of those in the cemetery were what were once called 'beautiful people', but their faces showed the weariness of seeing too many friends die. 'I know all these

people,' Nureyev's friend Frank Dunlop, the theatre director, said, 'but I barely recognise them. They seem to have suddenly grown old.'

(Photograph omitted)