FRANKFURT — One of Russia's greatest gifts to the West may be the 23-year-old ballet dancer who asked asylum in Paris two months ago.
Rudolf Nureyev, son of Siberian peasants, is still as eager to carry on his study and performance of ballet in the West as he was in June when he defected from Leningrad's famed Kirov Ballet in Paris.
What is perhaps more important, though, is that the West is equally eager to see him perform.
He has already obtained enough engagements to give him nominal financial freedom. The Marquis de Cuevas ballet troupe enlisted him in Paris almost as soon as his defection was made public June 20, and he completed the season with it there.
The Hesse State Radio in Frankfurt then engaged him to record two ballets, "Giselle" and "Specter of the Rose," for telecast in Germany. He is now studying briefly in Copenhagen. Next month he is going to America to "look over" the ballet company of George Ballanchine in New York.
Why is the West so fascinated with Nureyev?. The reason is at least four-fold:
¶ Nureyev is extraordinarily gifted, so much so that critics both in Russia and in Paris have compared him with the late Vaslov Nijinsky, the greatest ballet dancer of all time, whose leaps in the years just before World War I made him a legend.
¶ Nureyev is a male dancer in a field whose women are more publicized.
¶ Nureyev is a Russian, and Russian ballet is ranked with the world's best.
¶ Nureyev is now in the West, apparently to stay.
Last week, in Frankfurt, Nureyev gave reporters a chance to explore with him his new goals. He speaks fluent English, which learned at school in Leningrad, and, except for a ban on "political" questions, he spoke freely.
He had said earlier in Paris that he fled communism because "it is a life of bullying, for the artist as for everyone else, but most of all for the artist."
"When I was a student at ballet school," he said at the time, "I was told what to think, what to read, how to spend my spare time, and who could be my friends. In the ballet troupe, it is exactly the same ... private life in the Soviet Union is impossible."
Where will Nureyev go to live?
"I do not know yet," he said. "Maybe Europe, London or Paris, or maybe, America. I shall make a tour and look over every place. I shall decide on a place where there is good ballet and good audiences."
What is "good ballet" and where does Nureyev expect to find it?
"You have many more kinds of dance in the West," he replied. "I should like to try them all. At the Kirov school, and in Russian ballet in general, we learn first the classical ballet and then the folk ballet. So long as one first learns the classical ballet, one can learn and perform the others.
"I think often in the West, particularly in America, it is the other way around. You learn first the folk ballet, or modern ballet or jazz, and you do not learn the classical ballet well because you cannot adjust to it. After classical training, it is possible to learn jazz but not the other way around."
While in Paris, Nureyev saw both the American Theater Ballet, whose director is Jerome Robbins and whose repertory is principally modern, and "West Side Story," the American musical comedy which contains a modern jazz ballet scene choreographed by Robbins.
What did Nureyev think of these American ballets?
"Oh, I liked them very much," he 'said, "very much indeed, especially `West Side Story.' I should like to dance in `West Side Story.' I also like another of your American ballets, `Opus Jazz.'
"You have very good American choreography, but I think your choreographers sometimes forget about the dancer and are too concerned with the dance. The ballet should be written for the dancer. Ballet is more than a collection of sounds and movement."
Does Nureyev expect to be influenced by American or European ballet?
"I have no intention of changing my style," he said. "I am a classical purist. That is my field, my speciality. And I shall remain that way. But I want to see more of your modern ballet. Your production is so different in West. I want to see it and study it."
Nureyev went to Leningrad to study ballet only six years ago, at the age of 17. Although he has brothers and sisters, he is the only member of his family to take up ballet.
Like so many Russian exiles, Nureyev's first love, after the. ballet, is Russia.
"I can dance best in Russia," he said. "There are the best conditions, the best audiences, the best performances, the best teachers."