4.1 8
by Colum McCann

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Taking his inspiration from biographical facts, novelist Colum McCann tells the erotically charged story of the Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev through the cast of those who knew him: there is Anna Vasileva, Rudi's first ballet teacher, who rescues her protégé from the stunted life of his provincial town; Yulia, whose sexual and artistic ambitions


Taking his inspiration from biographical facts, novelist Colum McCann tells the erotically charged story of the Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev through the cast of those who knew him: there is Anna Vasileva, Rudi's first ballet teacher, who rescues her protégé from the stunted life of his provincial town; Yulia, whose sexual and artistic ambitions are thwarted by her Soviet-sanctioned marriage; and Victor, the Venezuelan street hustler, who reveals the lurid underside of the gay celebrity set. Spanning four decades and many worlds, from the horrors of the Second World War to the wild abandon of New York in the eighties, Dancer is peopled by a large cast of characters, obscure and famous: doormen and shoemakers, nurses and translators, Margot Fonteyn, Eric Bruhn and John Lennon. And at the heart of the spectacle stands the artist himself, willful, lustful, and driven by a never-to-be-met need for perfection.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A chorus of voices breathe new life into the story of Rudolf Nureyev, one of ballet's greatest performers, in this vibrant, imaginative patchwork of a novel by Irish expatriate McCann (This Side of Brightness, etc.). As a seven-year-old peasant boy in 1944, Rudi dances for wounded soldiers in a hospital ward during World War II. By the mid-1950s he has outgrown life in the tiny Soviet town of Ufa, his unfailing determination to perform (against the stern wishes of his father) driving him into the wider world. It is his stubborn persistence more than his natural talent that distinguishes him, but his first teachers see great potential in him, and he is accepted into a ballet company in Leningrad. He defects to France and later moves on to Italy, where "the ovations become more exhausting than the dance" and he is sucked into the drug and disco culture of the late '70s, even after his partner Margot Fonteyn urges him to stay focused. A relationship with New York gay hustler Victor Pareci allows Rudi to indulge his wildest impulses, but his brashness and self-absorption are tempered when he journeys back to his homeland in 1987 in the touching conclusion. The sections narrated by different characters, some central and some marginal, create a kaleidoscopic effect. Faithfully capturing the pathos and grim poverty of the Soviet Union at mid-century, McCann also reveals a splashy tabloid affinity for the excesses and effects of fame and notoriety. Though the focus here is narrower than that of McCann's previous works, the novel is a lovely showcase for his fluid prose and storytelling skill. (Jan. 6) Forecast: Balletomanes are the core audience for this novel, but Nureyev's appeal transcends the world of dance and should attract plenty of general readers as well. McCann's fans may be taken aback by his move from grit to gloss, but those who brave Dancer will likely enjoy it. Author tour. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In this unique biographical novel, McCann creates a portrait of Rudolf Nureyev as perceived by the people who knew him. Using a cast of actors (William Dufris and others) to voice Nureyev's contemporaries presents a fractured likeness as if we are seeing reflections of his life in shards of mirror. Not a true biography, this work is more a character study of the many people in the dancer's life and the cultural changes that took place during his lifetime. The actors perform admirably accents from many countries are handled with skill. The audiobook spans Nureyev's years of poverty in the Soviet Union through his wildly decadent life in Andy Warhol's New York seeming to leave few stones unturned. The environments in Dancer are as changeable as light refracted through a prism. Recommended for libraries with contemporary literature or dance collections. Theresa Connors, Arkansas Tech Univ., Russellville Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A fictionalized biography of Rudolf Nureyev (1938-93), chronicled in an understated, intimate narrative from the celebrated dancer's childhood to the height (and excesses) of his fame. The town of Ufa, in the former Soviet region of Bashkir, was about as far off the beaten track as you could get-especially under Stalin, when it was a secret industrial city not even allowed to appear on the map. Yet Ufa was to provide the first audience for one of the greatest stars in ballet history, who made his world premiere as a six-year-old dancing in the wards of WWII military hospitals. Talented from the start but no prodigy, Nureyev trained long and hard to become a dancer-first in Ufa (very much against the wishes of his father, a Party member who dreamed of having an engineer for a son), and later in Leningrad, where he became a member of the famed Kirov Ballet. When success arrived, it arrived quickly, and by the late 1950s Nureyev was doing command performances for Krushchev and the Central Committee. In 1961 he defected to the West, in Paris, transforming himself into cause célèbre-vilified at home (his father publicly denounced him) and idolized abroad. McCann (Everything in This Country Must, 2000, etc.) tells the story from different perspectives, in chapters narrated alternately by Anna Vasileva (Nureyev's first ballet teacher), Victor Parecci (the gay Venezualian prostitute who became his lover in New York), Yulia Sergeevna (his landlady in Leningrad), and Nureyev himself. Like many success stories, Nureyev's presented a depressing spectacle of vanity and decadence toward the end, and the later chapters (largely chronicles of parties, shopping sprees, hangovers, and petty spites) conveythis vividly. The ending, a description of Nureyev's 1987 return to visit his family in Ufa, is appropriate and moving. Balletomanes will love it, but the focus may seem obsessive to anyone who doesn't know who Margot Fonteyn is. Author tour
From the Publisher

“A beautiful, floating novel about Nureyev's life and art.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Exuberant and exhilarating . . . A brilliant leap of imagination.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“The goal of a book like this is to catch the spirit of the person and his age. It's a tall order, and one that Dancer pulls off brilliantly.” —The Seattle Times

“Fascinating . . . A triumph of voice . . . McCann's fluid lyricism brilliantly convey's Nureyev's towering professional achievement and the wasteland of his personal life.” —Newsday

“A monumental life . . . Stylistically, Dancer is a leap itself.” —Los Angeles Times

“An engrossing portrait of a man so complex that no mere biography could possibly convey more than a sliver of his personality. . . . The Nureyev who strides impatiently through its pages seems entirely convincing.” —Terry Teachout, The Baltimore Sun

“Every sentence sounds new and beautiful, no matter how often it's read.” —USA Today

Dancer is the most breathtaking tribute to Nureyev since Jamie Wyeth's famous paintings.” —Esquire

“Dazzling . . . an intimate portrait . . . Dancer is bigger than the dance, bigger than biography, too. . . . Relish McCann's dizzy, fascinating glimpse.” —Miami Herald

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

From Dancer:

Just when we all thought they were finished, a small blond boy stepped out of the line. He extended his legs, placed his hands firmly on his hips and hitched his thumbs at his back. He bent his neck slightly forward, stretched his elbows out and began. The soldiers in their beds propped themselves up. The boy went to the floor for a squatting dance. We all stood silently watching. The boy grinned. Some soldiers began clapping in rhythm but, just as the dance was about to end, the boy almost fell. His hand slapped the floor and broke the impact. For a moment he looked as if he was about to cry, but he didn't, he was up once more, his blond hair flopping over his eyes.

When he finished the ward was full of applause. Someone offered the boy a cube of sugar. He blushed and slipped it into the top of his sock and then he stood around with his hands in his pockets, rolling his shoulders from side to side.

Meet the Author

Colum McCann is the author of books including This Side of Brightness, Zoli, Songdogs and Let the Great World Spin. He has received the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, a Pushcart Prize, and was named the first winner of the Grace Kelly Memorial Foundation Award and the Princess Grace Memorial Literary Award. He lives in New York City.

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Dancer 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Colum McCann does an incredible job of taking perception from various characters in Rudolf's life, adding historical facts, mixing in some colorful flair, and creating a story that is difficult if not impossible to stop reading. I read non-stop and finished in one day, lent my book out, and am considering purchasing another because I didn't get it back. It is definitely a great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Moira Driscoll and Mark Honan are amazing in this book! Truly talented people! I love them!
IDF More than 1 year ago
It's not just about a great dancer his rise to fame, and his living but also about Russia just before and after WWII. The writing is good too!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In this novel we see what a talented, tortured, arrogant, manic person Nureyev was. Fascinating details about Soviet Russia and the world of ballet.
karatepen More than 1 year ago
This is an outrageous book written in rapture.The story is developed beautifully .I read each page to see what was next and re read that page to enjoy the magnificence of the writing and the surprise of McCann's flight.Very entertaining.A GREAT BOOK !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an absolutely riveting book. The author's unique style plays a part in this - he switches point of view, tense, and prose style in rapid succession throughout the story. Nureyev's dancing was brilliant and compulsive - he danced nearly to the end of his life even when he was in serious pain. His charisma and volatility are magnificently portrayed in this fictionalized biography (sometimes autobiography) which begins in the horrendous conditions of Russia's WWII battlefields and ends with his reunion with the family he had not seen in decades. I had read an excellent biography of Nureyev about two years ago, and recognized some of the people in his inner circle, but some readers may be frustrated by the first-name-only identity of people dropped into the story throughout the book. Nevertheless, the story has a magnetic pull - I couldn't resist it.
BalletomaneEO More than 1 year ago
Slunderous rubbish! Malicious insult to a great artist who is no longer here to defend himself.