Revealed: secrets of Nureyev's defection

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The Independent Online
SECRET KGB documents have revealed that Rudolf Nureyev did not plan his defection to the West, but took advantage of a squabble between Kirov ballet leaders and Soviet security agents to flee.

The papers, which have been locked away in Communist Party archives until now, contradict the belief that Nureyev had planned his escape when he defected at Le Bourget airport in Paris, 37 years ago.

They show that the Kirov's artistic directors and the Soviet embassy in Paris ignored two KGB orders to send the dancer back to Moscow 13 days before his defection.

These details emerge in a new biography of Nureyev by Diane Solway. She uncovered the recently declassified Soviet archives - which have now been closed again to the public - that form the basis for her book. She also reveals for the first time that the dancer, who died from Aids in 1993, was smuggled to safety by a French border control chief who was a White Russian hostile to the Soviet regime.

Nureyev was one of the first major cultural figures to flee the USSR. His escape was seen as a premeditated act by a man opposed to the Soviet system. But Ms Solway spoke to more than 200 people close to the star who said he had been planning to return to the USSR at the end of the tour.

However, the KGB, angered by his defiance of curfews, wanted to send him home early in the tour. The Kirov ballet and the Soviet embassy regarded the KGB as philistines for wanting to send him home when he was making such an impact on audiences, and they refused to comply. The dancer was told he was to return to Moscow as he waited at the airport to fly to London, where he was to perform with the ballet company. He was so upset at the prospect that he panicked and threatened suicide. The flight to Moscow was two hours later than the London flight, which gave him time to appeal to friends and to Gregory Alexinsky, the head of French border patrol.

Ms Solway tracked down Alexinsky to a Paris nursing home and discovered that he had personal motives for helping Nureyev. He was a White Russian whose father had been imprisoned for criticising Lenin. He helped smuggle Nureyev through a back door to French police headquarters, where he was granted a refugee visa.

In an interview with the Independent on Sunday last week, Ms Solway said it was the Soviet government that turned Nureyev into a symbol of political and personal freedom, because of its incompetence. "Nureyev wasn't interested or motivated by politics. His defection was ... propelled by his instinctive need to be able to dance," she said.

In defecting, Nureyev knew that it was unlikely he would ever see his family again. Ms Solway said this loss had a huge impact on the dancer, who became desperate towards the end of his life to belong to a family and to have his own children - despite the fact that he was a homosexual. He tried to persuade a close friend, Charles Jude, to allow him to father a child with Jude's wife through a bizarre fantasy of mixing the sperm of the two men together. He also proposed that he adopted Jude, his wife and children and that they would all live together in a chateau bought by Nureyev.

"He seemed to have this wonderful and lavish life but the price he paid for freedom was not being allowed to see his mother until she was dying. The KGB punished him until the end," said Ms Solway.

'Nureyev: His Life' by Diane Solway is published on 9 November by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, price pounds 20