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Nureyev the rugby fan


FrankH
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Reading A Fork in the Road, a "Memoir" by the late South African author André Brink (novelist, poet, and playwright), I came across an intriguing snippet, which indicates that Rudolf Nureyev was a keen rugby fan. This may be well known to many on this forum, but it is something that I had never heard of before.

 

The snippet comes in the middle of a section in which Brink is talking about his own love of sport, and in particular of rugby. He writes that "If a bad game can be an insult to the emotions and the intelligence, a good and fluid game may indeed resemble a concerto or a symphony, a tone poem or a ballet." (As a rugby fan myself, I would agree with him, and also agree with him that a good game of rugby is a rarity.)

 

This provides the context for Brink to describe what happened in the late '80s, when his "very good friend Gerrit Geertsema, then director of the Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal, made a trip to Paris to meet Nureyev and attempt to secure the rights for his company to produce the ballet of Don Quixote, for which Nureyev had devised the choreography."

 

Gerrit finds that the staff at the Paris Opéra are extremely reluctant to allow him to meet the great man, but after much persistence, he gets the receptionist to contact Nureyev. She returns to tell Gerrit that Nureyev was about to go into rehearsal, but that he was prepared to see his South African visitor, "provided he would not take up more than five minutes."

 

I will let Brink's book tell the rest. As in his novels, Brink does not use quotation marks:

 

Nureyev expressed his regret for not being able to have a proper discussion. It would have been a pleasure to spend a few minutes with someone from the country of the Springboks.

 

You know about the Springboks? asked Gerrit.

 

I never miss any of their games on TV, Nureyev assured him. Unfortunately we do not often have the chance.

 

It is not easy at the moment, with the sanctions, said Gerrit. But they are a rather formidable team right now. I saw them a week ago and ---

 

You saw them a week ago?

 

And right there everything changed. For an hour, like two excited schoolboys, they eagerly discussed the Springbok game; and the Gerrit was invited to accompany Nureyev to his rehearsal. In the late evening, exhausted but radiant, Gerrit was reluctantly allowed to go. As a little aside to their eager discussions, Nureyev mentioned that if he really wanted the rights to the choreography of Don Quixote, they were his.

 

[Apologies if this is already well known to many members of this forum, but there may be some to whom this is new.]

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Very interesting FrankH, the great dancer might have made a good stand off the balance he had, and the way he danced. :) After being at a pro club for around fifteen years, I wouldn't agree that a good game of rugby is a rarity though.

 

I should perhaps have said that good games of rugby are in a minority, rather than being a rarity, and that's probably what Brink meant as well. Most of the top level games I have seen on TV, or actually attended (two at the last World Cup, both involving the Springboks) have been enjoyable. But most rugby is played below the pro level. And even some pro games can be dire, the sort where most of the game is taken up with rucks and mauls, and when the ball eventually makes its way out, it is kicked away.

 

I agree with you that Nureyev would have been good at rugby, had he taken it up. I believe that most top ballet dancers would make good rugby players, particularly in the flair positions (especially stand-off/fly-half, but also any of the backs or loose forwards), as the physical and mental requirements are quite similar - balance, co-ordination, quick feet, precision of movement, a high strength-to-weight ratio. And guts and determination. I believe that the amount of guts and determination needed to make it to the professional ranks in ballet is quite exceptional. And if any physiologist were to do tests, I would expect top ballet dancers to be on average fitter than top footballers and rugby players. It is thus extremely annoying when some football managers use ballet as a symbol for weakness.

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