Revealed: secrets of Nureyev's defection

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

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy