On Scene With Bill Wilson — A Life in Dance

The new exhibition at the deYoung Museum, “Rudolf Nureyev: A Life In Dance” made me think about my encounters with Rudolf Nureyev when he performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC in May of 1983. Nureyev had already established himself as a superstar. So it was a thrill to be able to see him perform and afterward to have the opportunity to speak with him, however briefly.
The first occasion didn’t start out auspiciously. The stage door manager told those of waiting at the stage door that if he was in a good mood Nureyev would be glad to sign, but if he wasn’t in a good mood he would go directly to his limo. He said we shouldn’t even ask because he would snap at us. A few minutes later he came back and told us that Nureyev was not in a good mood and that we should just stay out of his way.

At that point most of the people left leaving about five of us to witness Nureyev’s  departure. He dramatically swept across the sidewalk and into his waiting limousine. He was talking rather animatedly with a woman accompanying him and it was obvious that he was not happy. He opened the door to the limo the woman with him got in, he got in, he shut the door and then they just waited. After about 3 or 4 minutes this little ten year old girl timidly walked up to the limo and knocked on the tinted window.   The window went down and she very politely asked if he would mind signing her program. He smiled and did so. The rest of us rather quietly formed a line behind her so when he finished hers the next person handed him whatever they had wanted him to sign. It was rather amusing because he was very nice to those of us on the outside of the limo but he was still yelling at the lady with him. To her he said that he didn’t like to be kept waiting and as far as he was concerned he felt they should just leave. Because there were so few people who had waited he was through signing autographs before the person they were waiting for arrived. She finally showed up a few minutes later.

I had asked him to sign a photograph I had cut of the Washington Post. Because he was so angry he signed with more vigor than he might ordinary so it is a big bold signature that unfortunately isn’t as visible as the newprint has faded over the years.

Because Nureyev danced eight performances over a six day period and thanks to standing room only tickets I was able to take in more than one performance. The second time I brought my camera and was able to get a photo I treasure. He was in a much better mood and was very nice to his fans.


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