A Fractured Toe Is No Joke to a Man Who Earns His Living on His Feet: Rudolf Nureyev
The "craaack" resounded in the wings. At first members of the West Berlin Opera Ballet thought guest artist Rudolf Nureyev had pirouetted on a glass bead from a costume. Grimacing, the star heroically continued The Nutcracker until the curtain. "I was leaping through the air," he later explained, "and when I hit, poof..." Nureyev had landed unevenly and fractured the little toe of his right foot, a devastating accident for a dancer. At a Berlin hospital he was put in a plaster ankle cast and warned against performing for six weeks.
At 41, though, Nureyev is determined to mend fast, and he immediately began to gimp through part of his daily barre practice. He is constantly reminded that he is running out of time. West German critics sniped at his Nutcracker, claiming the Russian's dancing is no longer what it used to be. "Nature is clever about these things," Nureyev acknowledged. "I'll dance as long as I enjoy it. When it becomes painful, I will find it unpleasant and be dissatisfied...Maybe choreography will sweep me off my feet."
Indeed, the injury (remarkably, the first broken bone in his 26-year dance career) caused Nureyev to missstarring in the world premiere of Manfred, a work about the Byronic hero, which he choreographed for the Paris Opera Ballet. But the dancer stomped around rehearsals and managed to bring his authority to bear even wearing red après-ski booties.
The day after Manfred opened before an adoring audience at the immense (capacity: 4,000-plus) Palais des Sports, Nureyev's cast was removed. He remains swaddled in tape, but is driving himself physically so that he can appear in Manfred before the end of the run on New Year's Eve. "Somehow life tastes better when I dance," Nureyev explains. "Some people are patient, but I..."
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