Two months after astounding the Kirov’s audience with a series of double tours assemblées in «La Bayadère» – a feat that no other dancer had ever attempted until then – Rudolf Nureyev achieved the greatest success of his short Russian career, when he made his début at the age of 21 in the role of Albrecht in «Giselle» on December 12th 1959, alongside Irina Kolpakova.
Contrary to Konstantin Sergueev, who had established the Soviet tradition of a frivolous price having a good time with a young peasant girl whom he didn’t really care for, Nureyev played the part as a sincere and ardent lover from the beginning to the end of the ballet, overwhelmed by madness and grief at the death of Giselle. His genuine despair and noble acting moved the audience. His friends were amazed by the metamorphosis of this young Tatar from a poor background into a proud prince, as if royal blood flowed in his veins. It was after a charity gala that Margot Fonteyn had organised at The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in November 1961, that Dame Ninette de Valois, Director of the Royal Ballet, decided to invite the popular young renegade to dance the part of Albrecht. With Margot Fonteyn, they went on to form the most famous couple in the world of dance for the next two decades. Stimulated by the youth who was nearly twenty years younger than she, Margot Fonteyn had only one wish: to continue dancing and to learn new roles with Nureyev, who had been engaged by the Royal Ballet as a guest artist. Their “Giselle” remains the height of emotion and the filmed excerpts of the early London performances reveal an infinite tenderness between the two artistes, between the passionate Albrecht and his deeply moved Giselle, to whom he gave a new lease of life. The final scene with Nureyev, who believes he is still pressing Giselle’s hand to his face, is heart-rending and the young man is breathtakingly beautiful. How could we forget Nureyev’s sensual and feline movements, when he performed the ballet with Margot Fonteyn and the Australian Ballet at the Palais des Sports in Paris in 1965. Nureyev had a unique way of walking on stage and it was a joy to see him move back to the rear of the stage before starting a variation, or when he ran with his velvet cape billowing behind him. As he grew older and more experienced, Nureyev added more seriousness and depth to the part of Albrecht – as he did to his other princely roles – and it appeared regularly in his repertoire. R.S.