Sunday, October 12, 2008



Recently I was at a gathering when a woman brought up parties she used to attend in the 60s and 70s with Nureyev and Leonard Bernstein, and it made me think what a fine time that must have been to be alive and to be in New York surrounded by artists. Of course, the past always seems terribly rosy, but I can't help but feel that it must have been a marvelous period of history. Is the party still going on? By all account it is, and maybe now that the bankers aren't going to own everything here, there will be more artists again.

The mention of Nureyev's name made me think of Collum McCann's wonderful book, Dancer, which is a fictionalized account of Nureyev's life. Of the many things I enjoyed about reading Dancer--and I am becoming an increasingly ornery reader--was the unapologetic way in which Nureyev comes off as an artist; he has something to show and something to do and isn't sorry about it in the least and minds very much when anyone gets in his way. The art comes first. Best of all, the book made me feel, which is what I want when I read.

There was a point in my childhood when I was obsessed with the Nureyev/Fonteyn partnership. This was before the internet, so all I had to look at were pictures in oversized dance books in the library. I'd look at the photos and project on to both of these performers what it must be to make art and to be in love. It's easy for a child to romanticize. I stumbled today across a number of reviews of a relatively recent biography of Fonteyn's life, which of course details the Nureyev/Fonteyn partnership. I haven't read the book, but am keen to now. Notes one reviewer:

The broad outlines of the lives of this pair - who bullied and charmed each other into discovering in themselves theatrical qualities they did not know they possessed - will be familiar to many potential readers of this biography.

Bullied and charmed. The thing about being a writer is that so much time is spent alone; I almost never collaborate. What would it be like?

Fonteyn herself, like the Nureyev in McCann's novel, is a perfectionist of the highest order--but she is seeking something beyond mere physical truth.

Fonteyn's greatest gifts, Meredith Daneman shows, were her musicality, her inner balance and poise, and her integrity, her submission to her art, her refusal to make an unfelt gesture, and her ability, right to the end of her long and exalted career, to learn.

It's a tall order, but must be what it means to drive oneself to make real art. Authentic art. Will we live in authentic times again? Reading through all the material online, I was again lured into the story of Margot and Rudi, and fortunately, this time there was Youtube to feed me.

This is wonderful theater. Why did it work when she was twenty years older than he? Fonteyn says:

“Genius is another word for magic, and the whole point of magic is that it is inexplicable.”

Somewhere, I imagine, the magic is still happening.

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