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Bookmarks Issue: 
33-Mar-Apr-2008
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The Life

A-Nureyev-BioRudolph Nureyev was a dancer known as much for his difficult (if magnetic) personality as for his immense talent. From the moment he was "shaken out of the womb" on a trans-Siberian train, Nureyev’s life was a series of sensational incidents and adventures—the most famous being his dramatic defection to the West in 1961. While author Julie Kavanagh vividly evokes his troubled relationships with dance-world mentors and lovers, his notoriously bad behavior, and his untimely death at age 54 from AIDS, this vibrantly narrated and prodigiously researched biography is most remarkable in its ability to capture the passionate and focused inner life of a dance legend.
Pantheon. 782 pages. $37.50. ISBN: 0375405135

Philadelphia Inquirer 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Julie Kavanagh’s triumph of bravura tale-telling is a masterpiece, an overflowing written life that perfectly reflects Nureyev’s own: ferociously concrete, ambitious, profligate, shocking and soaring, from its eyewitness account of his birth on a Siberian train to Nureyev’s final words. … Nureyev is easily the best biography of the year." Carlin Romano

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"[Kavanagh] offers a critically authoritative biography of the legendary dancer that should appeal to scholars and casual fans alike, combining exhaustive research with delightfully juicy, gossip-filled anecdotes to paint a remarkably full-blooded portrait." Karen Campbell

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Despite his death in 1993 at age 54, Rudolf Nureyev managed to live the sort of exuberant life most people could not cram into 100 years. … Kavanagh gives us the fascinating details of the life of a modern-day genius in honest, thoroughly researched, achingly objective prose." Andrea Berggren

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Nureyev: The Life earns the definitive article of its subtitle, weaving deftly together, for instance, the difference between the Vaganova and Bournonville schools of ballet training, and the torrid passion between Nureyev and the famed Danish star Erik Bruhn. … [Kavanagh’s] take on Nureyev’s life is more triumph than tragedy, a tale of self-reliance and self-fulfilling onanism." Rachel Howard

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In her opening paragraph, Julie Kavanagh exposes both the depth of a 10-year research process and the absence of a strong editorial hand as she sets the stage for an often revealing, sometimes numbing volume. … Nonetheless, a varied and vivid portrait emerges in the pages that follow, often through Kavanagh’s well-chosen quotes." Liz Lerman

Christian Science Monitor 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Dance becomes too academic. Kavanagh can give the pedigree of a work, the emotion behind a special curtain call, or the psycho-historical meaning of a pose. But she doesn’t describe Nureyev in motion or attempt to portray the joy he must have taken in being airborne." Maggie Lewis

Critical Summary

Julie Kavanagh knows the dance world, and it shows. The London-based journalist and former ballerina previously wrote a prize-winning biography of choreographer Frederick Ashton, and she fills Nureyev: The Life with piercing insights into both the life of her subject and the turbulent world of professional ballet. Critics loved her riveting storytelling, and though the Christian Science Monitor complained that Kavanagh dwells too long on the dancer’s experiences in the "brutal anonymity of 70s gay culture" and his passing from AIDS, they generally praised her refusal to sugarcoat any aspect of Nureyev’s life and personality. Overall, Kavanagh offers a compelling portrait of a complicated man in the tone of "a mother who knows her child’s faults all too well and yet looks upon him with affection" (San Francisco Chronicle).