Most of the A-list designers are culture hounds, relentlessly ransacking culture and peeking in every nook & cranny of culture for something surprising, cool or, so often right now - for something old that can be made to feel new again (ever wonder why there are so dang many remakes in Hollywood). Which is why major museum exhibitions are such a great place to go trendspotting way ahead of the masses.
So mark your calender for October 6th when the de Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the death of a very special and influential dancer/ballet-master/choreographer & company director. *Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance* was organized in collaboration with the Centre national du costume de scène in Moulins, France and will be presenting more than 70 costumes from ballets danced or choreographed by Nureyev - Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Manfred among them — as well as a selection of photographs, videos and ephemera that chronicles his illustrious life.
Nureyev's dramatic escape from the Soviet Union in 1961 combined with his dashing good looks, sexual energy & the triumphant success of his ballets, made him an international sensation by the age of 23. This exhibition highlights how he was part of the intense new celebrity culture taking hold in the early 1960s. "Nureyev was considered ballet’s first pop star," says Jill D’Alessandro, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s curator of costume and textile arts. "From his very first appearances on stage at Covent Garden, 'Rudimania' set London ablaze." And just like Mick Jagger and John Lennon, Nureyev drew adoring crowds and was constantly photographed often out & about nightclubbing and hobnobbing with other Beautiful People.
A diva, Nureyev was a demanding innovator with little patience for those who clung to what he judged as outmoded tradition. According to fellow Russian Mikhail Baryshnikov, he "had the charisma and simplicity of a man of the earth, and the inaccessible arrogance of the gods." He was also a meticulous performer, insisting on costumes that were precisely engineered to suit the physical demands of his dance - and gorgeous to boot. (The man loved him some bling in the form of embroidery, braid & jewels.) "Rudolf worked very closely with designers and no detail was too small," explains D’Alessandro. "Lengthy discussions encompassing world history and the history of art, design, and performance were part of creating his ballets."
The costumes were chosen to showcase the man's lifelong obsession with the details of fabric, decoration and stylistic line, one of the tangible ways that Nureyev breathed new life into classic ballets like Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet over a long period. Still dancing through his 40s and into his 50s - "You live as long as you dance," he once remarked - Nureyev took a position in 1983 as director of the Paris Opera Ballet, the oldest dance company in the world, where he spent his final years nurturing a new generation of stars and generally being an iconoclast until his death from AIDS-related complications in early 1993.
Credited with breaking barriers between modern dance and classical ballet, he was also responsible for bringing the male dancer back to the forefront, thereby reversing decades of tradition. "Nureyev's work meant that men’s roles were no longer subservient to women's," adds D'Alessandro. "His unique combination of artistry, technical precision, electric stage presence, and musicality thoroughly transformed male dancing in the West."
RUDOLF NUREYEV: A LIfe in Dance will be on display at the de Young Museum in San Francisco from October 6, 2012 through February 17, 2013.
- Lesley Scott