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Life Experience

The White Crow – Nureyev’s sensational defection

This film tells the story behind an event that made headlines around the world in June 1961, the defection of ballet star, Rudolf Nureyev.

It was at the time when the Soviet Union, whilst still holding a tight communist grip on its populations wanted to present itself to The West as culturally sophisticated. Indeed it had the world-famous Kirov Ballet Company so Soviet leaders decided to send a company of its top dancers to Paris to perform, not just to Parisians, but also to the world media. Its star dancer at that time was 23-year-old Rudolph Nureyev, a formidable personality and widely reckoned to be one of the greatest ballet dancers of all time. The troupe was dispatched to Paris with accompanying KGB minders.

The trip was an artistic success but a diplomatic disaster for the Soviets: Nureyev found an unexpected opportunity to escape his minders and get political asylum in France, an act rated as treason in Russia.

How he progressed to the top as a ballet dancer is an astonishing story. Incredible talent, energy, intelligence and determination is part of the story, but so often Nureyev behaved in ways that would seem calculated to destroy his career. He was supremely arrogant and obnoxious, rude even to those who had power over him. Only his talent saved him.


Brilliantly written, directed and performed this film tells the story of his rise as a young ballet dancer, his arrival in Paris and how he developed friendship with some of the cultural elite in Paris. Amongst the small group he got to know in Paris was a young woman, Clara Saint, the 19-year-old daughter of the Chilean ambassador to Paris who by chance became one of the key people in making Nureyev’s defection possible.

I am not a great fan of ballet but I found this film fascinating and was truly impressed by the performance of the Ukrainian actor, a dazzling dancer in his own right, Oleg Ivenko.

Director: Ralph Fiennes. Screenplay: David Hare based on the book by Julie Kavanagh Rudolf Nureyev: The Life.
Principal actors Oleg Ivenko, Ralph Fiennes, Louis Hofmann, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Chulpan Khamatova.

“White crow” is a Russian expression used to describe someone who is completely outside the normal. It’s an expression used to describe Nureyev from childhood.

AVAILABLE on DVD, Bluray, and Amazon Prime.

David Roberts 3 August 2020

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David Roberts

Writer, publisher, music promoter

Born in 1942, I now have time to enjoy life more widely and reflect on my experience, interests, and contemporary events.

David Roberts

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