I’ve mentioned this once or twice before. It bugs the shit out of me, because it was such a profound display of JJ’s complete lack of knowing absolutely anything about me. On New Year’s Eve he said to me, “You don’t know any gay people. You’ve never mentioned them to me.”
I realized that my ballet world might have looked like this to JJ:
At first, I thought this statement was an illustration of his complete self absorption. I had a hard time believing that he could be so stupid. I had taught Ballet for almost 15 years and dance for more than that. How could he believe that through all of that I had never met any gay men? Didn’t every one know about the cliche gay ballet dancers? About Nureyev, Bruhn and Nijinski? Didn’t he understand the world I grew up in? But something was put to me the other day and it made me think, and re-think. It was this: he was 6 years old, living in a little Indian Village when the Berlin Wall came down. I was 19 years old and had just come home from Ballet rehearsal. I switched on the TV and saw the world paradigm I grew up with falling before my eyes. JJ wasn’t stupid. He might have been pretty self-absorbed at the time, but mostly, he was un-informed. He was young.
All of these dancers, our hero’s our teachers, our mentors had escaped the Soviet Union to come to the West and dance. Balanchine, Nijinski, Pavlova in 1924, Nureyev in 1961, Marakova in 1970, Baryshnikov in 1974, Godunov in1979. They were the creators of our ballet world, the makers of American Ballet. My own teachers took classes from George Balanchine and dance with Mark Morris, Alvin Ailey, and Edward Villella. Many of them were gay: Balanchine – ok, he was a womanizer; Nijinski – probably; Nureyev – definitely; Baryshinkov – definitely not; Mark Morris – flaming; Edward Villella, Alvin Ailey, Leonide Massine, Anton Dolin, Sergei Lifar, Sir Frederick Ashton and Robert Joffery – all gay.
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, because of their high political profiles these Russian dancers became like rock starts. They hung out with Warhol and super models. They were house hold names. They inspired many a young gay man to live openly and were, in a good part, responsible for helping to lay the foundations of the gay rights movements of today. They were also the public face of the first epidemic of AIDS in the United States.
Nureyev’s real life partner of 25 years, Erik Bruhn of the Royal Danish Ballet, died in 1986 of complications related to AIDS. Nureyev died of AIDS in 1993 at the age of 54. Nureyev’s most famous dance partner was Dame Margo Fonteyn of the Royal Ballet. Here they are dancing one of their signature pieces – Romeo and Juliet. When you watch this, remember, this was filmed in 1966 – Nureyev was 26 and dancing with an injured leg and Margo Fonteyn was 46.
In the 1990 Baryshnikov got together with a lot of famous models (including 17 year old Uma Thurman and Christy Turlington), a few photographers and came up with this silly, charming little book called the Swan Prince (yes, look close, that’s a feather in his mouth). The all proceeds of this book went to supporting research on AIDS.
Check it out, it’s my book recommendation for the week – it will put a smile on your face.