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At a French museum, peeks at Nureyev’s world

By Roslyn Sulcas
New York Times

MOULINS, France Like his fabled appetites for dance and sex, Rudolf Nureyev’s hunger for collecting was insatiable. By 1983, when he was 45 and became director of the Paris Opera Ballet, he was the rock star of dance and a very rich man, with homes all over the world filled with treasures.

His taste for the sumptuous is evident in the ballets he staged, particularly for that company, which has just begun a monthlong run of his opulent “Sleeping Beauty,” a grand-scale vision of a royal court and its riches. Nureyev’s own homes were fully the equal of these lavish sets, and now many of his belongings have been gathered into a permanent collection that offers visitors a sense of his exuberant, vagabond personality and passion for all that was rare and beautiful.

It has taken the 20 years since Nureyev’s death from AIDS in 1993, but the new Nureyev Collection, which opened in October at the Centre National du Costume de Scène, the national theatrical costume museum here in the Auvergne region of France, has turned out to be the “lieu de memoire,” or “place of memory,” that Nureyev requested in his will.

Moulins, in central France, a three-hour train ride from Paris, is a surprising choice; Nureyev requested that his collection be in Paris, his favorite city. But the difficulty of finding the right space and ever-increasing property prices there made the search slow going, said Charles Jude, a former Paris Opera Ballet star who is on the board of the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation, which oversees the dancer’s legacy.

In 1995, most of Nureyev’s thousands of possessions were sold at auctions. The foundation kept a small portion, of which the museum received around 300 pieces, said Delphine Pinasa, its director.

Centre National du Costume de Scène is in the Quartier Villars, an elegantly proportioned 18th-century barracks, renovated and extended after a near-brush with demolition in 1984.

The collection is shown in three large rooms set apart from the museum’s main exhibition space; they were designed by Ezio Frigerio, who created sets for several of Nureyev’s productions. The first room is decorated with painted stage flats and offers spotlighted costumes in glass booths. Some were Nureyev’s own, most touchingly a simple pale blue doublet worn soon after his 1961 defection to the West, in “The Nutcracker.” There are also costumes from the ballets he staged, notably Hanae Mori’s 1920s-style outfit for Sylvie Guillem in “Cinderella,” an enchantment of pale-pink pleated silk, feathers and sequins, and the gold-embroidered blue-green silk tunic that is the warrior-hero Solor’s costume in the Nureyev production of “La Bayadère.”

On the way to the opulent third room, visitors pass through a gallery dominated by two enormous photographs of a youthful Nureyev – one midleap, hands clenched, hair flying, in Cannes in 1961; the other in leather coat and cap – and several previously unknown family photographs of him as a baby and young boy.

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