TBT: Planning Rudolf Nureyev’s London Debut

December 22, 2022

The December 1961 issue of Dance Magazine featured this image alongside a report on the London debut of a dancer whose defection just that summer had made international headlines: Rudolf Nureyev. The occasion for the performance was a charity gala, organized by Margot Fonteyn to benefit the Royal Academy of Dancing, which took place at The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden on November 2, 1961.

Though Fonteyn and Nureyev would go on to have a storied partnership, they did not perform together that evening: Fonteyn danced a pas de deux from Sir Frederick Ashton’s Birthday Offering with Michael Somes and debuted in a reconstruction of Fokine’s Le Spectre de la Rose opposite John Gilpin, while Nureyev partnered Rosella Hightower for the Black Swan pas de deux and danced a new solo created for him for the event by Ashton.

“From the audience point of view he was a sensation, and received what must amount to one of the longest and loudest ovations in recent memory,” then–London correspondent Clive Barnes noted. “As a technician, Nureyev, while brilliant, certainly has his faults: his plié is not as good as it might be, causing him to land heavily from his jumps; his ports de bras have more of a boyish grace than masculine grandeur; and quite a lot of his work shows a certain erratic finish. But as a dance personality he has few equals, and, carefully handled, I have no hesitation in suggesting that he could easily become the world’s most sought-after international star.”