When I watched The Children of Theatre Street the other day (which I wrote about here), I had no idea that PBS would be airing a documentary called Nureyev: The Russian Years just a couple days later.

Rudolf Nureyev was a ballet dancer– many say the best of our time– who studied at the Vaganova Choreographic Institute (aka the Kirov School) in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and danced with the Kirov Ballet. In 1961 he defected to the west in a dramatic escape from the KGB in the middle of the Paris airport. He went on to have a very successful career (though the PBS documentary leads us to believe that he would forever feel heartbroken on some level about his decision) and died in 1993.

The Children of Theatre Street is a documentary about the Kirov School. Kirov defected in 1961 and Theatre Street was shot in 1977– easily the height of Nureyev’s career in the west. At that point his name had been smeared and then erased from the history books in Russia. In Theatre Street, they do make a very brief mention about his notable absence– along with Baryshnikov’s– from the school’s gallery of notable alumni, but do not go into detail. I wonder if they did not really mention it so as to not make the Russians angry, or if in 1977 Nureyev’s story would have been such common knowledge that they felt no need to go into it.

At any rate, I’m glad to have had the happy coincidence of seeing The Children of Theatre Street and Nureyev: The Russian Years within the space of a few days. Knowing more about daily life at the Kirov school gave me a greater depth of knowledge with which to appreciate Nureyev’s story.

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