Nureyev leaves a fund of inspiration

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THE WORLD of ballet yesterday paid tribute to Rudolf Nureyev, regarded as probably the greatest modern male dancer and likened by one ballerina to 'a wonderful animal that had escaped the cage'.

Following his death in Paris at the age of 54, friends and colleagues praised his artistic genius and said he had changed the public perception of male dancers since his arrival in the West in the 1960s.

Last night the English National Ballet dedicated its performance of The Nutcracker at the Royal Festival Hall to his memory. Its artistic director, Ivan Nagy, who defected from Hungary at the same time as Nureyev left Russia, said his death was a great loss to the ballet world. 'He was truly one of the great geniuses of the 20th century. He was more inspiring than any other male dancer, and completely changed the image of a male dancer. Everyone in the business owes him an enormous debt.'

However, Nureyev was more closely associated with the Royal Ballet, with whom he worked until 12 years ago. Anthony Dowell, its director, said: 'All of us who were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time gained so much by watching and working with him. On stage he was truly charismatic, a great star and a complete artist; off stage he was a fascinating and charming person. It is a very great loss and we will all miss him deeply.'

Dame Ninette de Valois, founder of the Royal Ballet, recalled how she saw Nureyev dance for the first time at a charity matinee. 'He gave a most wonderful performance at this matinee, and all I know was, my one idea was to get him to us, to get him into England, and his one ambition was to come to London,' she told BBC Radio. Asked what qualities made Nureyev so special, Dame Ninette, 94, said: 'Everything. He was really a great classical dancer, and that's a very difficult word to use correctly you know. He had this wonderful body, marvellous feet and legs. He was very musical, very intelligent and his facility for technical work was quite remarkable.'

She added: 'He was very, very strict about himself. He had no illusions, absolutely none.'

Briony Brind, who danced with Nureyev many times, recalled the awesome talent of the man who made her his protegee and partnered her all over the world. 'He was magical, he was sensational in the biggest possible way and he was such an enigma,' she told LBC news.

Sue Hoyle, the director of dance for the Arts Council, said: 'From his first appearance at the Royal Opera House in 1961 he dazzled British audiences with a combination of technical strength, dramatic expression and explosive charisma.'

Peter Brooke, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, said he was saddened by Nureyev's death. Robin Corbett, Labour's national heritage spokesman, said: 'A bright and triumphant star of dance and music has gone out.'

Obituary, page 31

(Photograph omitted)