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Children's Books
by Mary Cree

We are happy to introduce our new Children's Books Editor, Jeffrey Canton. Jeffrey has been involved extensively in the Canadian Children's Lit community over the years, and was formerly with the Canadian Children's Book Centre. His reviews have appeared in a number of Canadian newspapers and magazines. He lives in Toronto.

Many years ago, my mother told me about a family friend whose daughter had chanced upon Rudolf Nureyev rehearsing alone in the studio. As she watched him with awe and admir ation, he paused, came over, took her hand, and said, "Come, and dance!" Imagine dancing with Nureyev! As a devoted young ballet fan, the story thrilled me. It also suggested the unique place this brilliant artist holds in the twentieth century.

Linda Maybarduk, a former dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, has written a thoughtful, intelligent biography of one of the greatest dancers to ever grace the stage. While touching on some aspects of his personal life, this is primarily a biography of Nureyev the dancer and how he changed the face of performance art. It is also a loving, personal tribute to a man who was her colleague, mentor, and friend.

Maybarduk traces Nureyev's career from his humble beginnings in Russia to his untimely death in Paris. His birth on the Trans-Siberian railroad set the tenor for the peripatetic life that would follow. The author explores the character traits and early events that cultivated his love of dance: his solitary nature; his feeling of being different from other children; and his first visit to the ballet on New Year's Eve in 1945, about which he recalls, "I had the absolute certitude that I had been born to dance."

There was no turning back. Although his father disapproved of his dancing and made many attempts to turn him into a "real man", Nureyev's love of the art form, combined with a relentless drive and abundant energy, led him to Leningrad. He attended the Kirov Ballet School and then joined the famed Kirov Ballet. From his first performance, his talent and charisma were unmistakable. It was at the Kirov, too, that his rebellious nature began to assert itself. He would be a rebel his whole life, always challenging anything or anyone who stood in the way of his art.

Maybarduk provides a suspenseful account of his well-documented defection in Paris in 1961. Once he is free to chart his own course, Nureyev embraces his new life with a passion, dancing with different companies and partners all over the world.

Along with a chapter on the "Rudimania" which swept the world, there is an excellent chapter on the technical aspects of dance and a good analysis of Nureyev's genius. The book puts Nureyev in context, moving easily between the details of his daily routine and the larger dance scene. Until he came along, there was no common ground between classical ballet and modern dance: Nureyev paved the way for experimentation and the development of new dance forms.

No great artist is without faults, and while Maybarduk provides anecdotes of Nureyev's legendary temper and egotism, she tends to gloss over his less noble side. Most of the stories and quotes portray him as a man who is honest with himself, down-to-earth, and generous, not only in financial terms, but more importantly, in his teaching and inspiring several generations of dancers.

With the exception of one coy reference to his relationship with Erik Bruhn, the author has chosen not to talk about his homosexuality. While Nureyev never publicly came out of the closet, his sexual preferences were common knowledge. After reading of his death from an AIDS-related illness, a young reader may be left wondering about that part of his life story.

Maybarduk writes from the heart. Her passion for her subject makes history come alive. Nureyev's life was thrilling, poignant, and tragic, and she captures its essence with skill and confidence. She effectively communicates the power of those moments when Nureyev's greatness shines. Her description of his now famous bow-one arm extended to each side of the theatre in turn-sent a shiver up my spine. 

Mary Anne Cree is a librarian with the Toronto Public Library.


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