Dialogues with Nureyev

Selection_221He: a controversial genius dancer who revolutionized the ballet world. A defector from the Soviet Union, director of Paris Opera Ballet. Born into a poor Soviet family shortly before World War II, he lived a life of struggle, fame, beauty and pain. He died in Paris at the age of 54. Rudolf Nureyev.

She: an insightful self-taught portrait artist from Serbia. Left her home country at the age of 19, studied in London, found her second home in St Tropez, France. Una St Tropez.

He never knew she existed, he never knew that twenty years after his death, she would, using her deep, vibrant art as the medium, bring him with triumph to the place where in his lifetime he didn’t dare dream to be. The Kremlin Palace.

We live as long as we are loved, states Una with confidence. Nureyev is alive and absolutely possible to talk to, she says, and emphasizes – life and death, time and space are powerless in the realm where true artists dwell.

“What amazed me about Nureyev was suffering, extreme suffering, which was the price he had to pay. I wanted to know what was behind the weight that he carried. I was literally addressing him as an artist.

“I’m a self-taught portraitist. In fact, I prefer to call myself an observer. I started as a writer. At first, drawing and painting were auxiliary means of accessing the character. Nureyev was very special in this respect because everything he did was very expressive.”

Selection_222The collection of paintings that Una St Tropez brought to Moscow includes 17 portraits. Nijinsky, Dostoevsky, Picasso, Che Guivara, Jesus Christ. And, of course, Nureyev himself.

“In order to paint Nureyev, I needed to know small and sometimes unusual details – his moods, his manner of talking; how he was when he was out of the limelight, how he was when he was sick and frail… I analyzed him to such an extent that watching some of his interviews for the first time, I could guess his facial expressions and the movement of his head.”

Building such an understanding of his character was possible due to Una’s encounter with a close friend of Nureyev’s, Charles Jude.

Una speaks of her inspirations in art, her background and her being an expatriate, a citizen of the world, sitting in the lobby of a luxury hotel in the downtown Moscow.

She comes to Russia quite a lot. I ask her to tell me about it. She shares willingly. Her religious background is Orthodox Christianity. She loves the Russian churches. Admires the gentle strength of the Russian spirit. “The people here are such fervent prayers”, she adds, recalling, in particular, her pilgrimage to St. Ksenia in St Petersburg. As she talks, my mind pictures her painting in the studio, and then, I have a brief glimpse of Rudolf Nureyev, standing in a big exhibition hall looking at the pictures on the wall, depicting today’s Moscow, Una St Tropez presenting her exhibition at the Kremlin Palace, the dancers on today’s ballet stage.

I suddenly realize that what makes the Soviet dancer and the Serbian-French artist kindred spirits is the courage that it took them to leave their home countries and to become travelers in this world. The courage that made them leave behind what they knew and what they would never come back to for the sake of discovery, self-expression, and the chance of making a difference in the world.