Credit: Shutterstock/Rudeolf Nureyev

You live as long as you dance.

Aptly named ‘The Lord of the Dance’, Rudolf Nureyev lived an exhilarating life that took him from humble beginnings to director of the Paris Opera Ballet. He is regarded by many as the finest dancer of his generation.

Born in suitably dramatic form aboard a Trans-Siberian train near Irkutsk, Siberia, Rudolf’s life would always be far from boring. He fell in love with dance at a young age when his mother took him and his sisters to see a performance of The Song of Cranes and regularly got involved in Bashkir folk performances. Seeing how enthusiastic he was for the form, his teachers encouraged him to train in Saint Petersburg. Due to disruption of Soviet cultural life caused by the second world war, Nureyev would have to wait until he was 17 to join a school in what was then Leningrad.

He quickly distinguished himself as a singular talent and broke away from traditional norms, mixing classical ballet with modern dance to produce something new entirely. By the late 1950s he was a sensation within the Soviet Union, but his outlandish attitudes and non-conformism made him a dangerous prospect for the government to consider using to promote their vision of cultural superiority in the world.

While on tour in Paris in 1961, Nureyev proved the suspicions of his Soviet handlers correct and conducted a daring defection to the west. He was unable to return to his homeland of Russia for over two decades but in 1987, Mikhail Gorbachev consented to allow him to visit his dying mother. Rudolf dedicated the rest of his life to dance, both to satisfy his own passion and in the hopes of encouraging young dancers around the world to take their first steps.