A short distance from Paris is the Orthodox Cemetery Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, which houses many Orthodox Russians who died and were buried close to the French capital. Among these there is also Rudol’f Chametovič Nureev, one of the greatest dancers and choreographers of the 20th century, who rests in a decidedly particular grave.
The sepulcher is in fact covered by a mosaic in the shape of a Kazakh kilim, a carpet of great value which is woven like a tapestry, because the dancer was an avid collector of beautiful carpets and antique textiles. The mosaic work was designed by the scenographer Ezio Frigerio and physically made by the Akomena studio in Ravenna, Italy, so that the reproduction of Nureyev’s carpet seems cover up a coffin below. The dancer’s coffin is below ground level, but the perfection of the folds of the carpet suggests that it is outside, positioned on the ground.
The work is composed of thousands of tiles that show 20 shades of red and 10 shades of gold, in addition to several other colors, among which other multiple shades of blue dominate. The sculpture, which is as cold as the marble it covers, creates the mental illusion of being composed of a warm fabric when instead it is, in effect, only a stone work.
Rudol’f Nureev, who in life gained enormous recognition for his talents as both choreographer and dancer, died in Paris at age 54 on 6 January 1993 following the complications of AIDS, a disease that had afflicted him the last years of his life. Buried with a funeral in secular form, his dance shoes were buried with him, which today rest, together with the remains of the dancer, under a precious Caucasian carpet.
Many paid tributes to his brilliance as a dancer. One such tribute came from Oleg Vinogradov of the Mariinsky Ballet in Saint Petersburg, Russia, stating: “What Nureyev did in the west, he could never have done here.” As his coffin was lowered into the ground, music from the last act of Giselle was played and his ballet shoes were cast into the grave along with white lilies.
All of its huge properties were auctioned and fund The Rudolf Nureyev Foundation, which aims to promote cultural and philanthropic initiatives, help older dancers and support new talents, as well as support AIDS research.