Her biographical record is worthy of a heroine out of Le Carré: Born in Geneva of an American mother and a Bulgarian refugee father, she was trained as a ballerina in Munich and London and divides her time between five homes, in Manhattan, London, Oxford, West Berlin and Monte Carlo. Yet she is shy almost to the point of invisibility. Nationality? Let us simply call Eva Evdokimova somewhat American. About her identity in the world of ballet, however, there is no mystery. A star in Europe for more than a decade, and one of Rudolf Nureyev’s most frequent partners over the past 15 years, Eva Evdokimova is regarded by some critics as the finest ballerina in the world.
At 39, an age when many bone-weary dancers have long since hung up their slippers, Evdokimova still plays up to 150 dates a year. According to Michael Gregori, her American husband and manager, she is ballet’s highest-paid female. Certainly she is its preeminent international female star. A permanent guest artist with the Berlin Opera, she became the first American to dance with the Kirov Ballet in 1976, and when that great company staged a tribute to its school’s director, Natalya Dudinskaya, six weeks ago, she was the only non-Russian to perform. She hopes to dance A Streetcar Named Desire in Hamburg this season.
Evdokimova, who has the last word on her career despite a soft-spoken, even childlike style, demurely calls the Kirov appearance “thrilling,” and well she might. “It was one of the biggest tests of her career,” says Gregori, a bear like, mustachioed man who tends to do most of her talking. “When they announced, ‘Eva Evdokimova from the United States,’ the audience was screaming. They screamed even louder when she was finished. And she is judged more critically as a foreigner.”
Speaking of which, what nationality is Eva exactly? “Eva is American,” says Gregori. “But she’s never watched Dallas, and she doesn’t know who Johnny Carson is. I introduced her to the finer things in life, like McDonald’s.”
Evdokimova’s curiously ambivalent life-style began in postwar Europe. Her mother worked for the U.N., and her father, a journalist, was a stateless refugee, so Eva inherited her mother’s citizenship. In fact, she has always been a citizen of the world. “Traveling has been a part of my career from the beginning,” says the ballerina. “I lead a sort of gypsy life.”
Shy and lonely as a child (her protective mother did not like her to associate with other children), Evdokimova began dancing at 6. When she was 10, her parents separated, and she became a boarder at London’s Royal Ballet School. It was there she first saw the Kirov and Bolshoi companies and the classical Russian style that would influence her life so profoundly. She also got her first peek at her idols, Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn, in rehearsal. When Nureyev caught her staring, she recalls, “I turned bright red. I was very much in awe of him.”
Accompanied by her mother (“the prototype ballet mother,” one American journalist has called her), Evdokimova quickly took the ballet circuit by storm. In 1966 she became the first foreigner admitted to membership in the Royal Danish Ballet. Three years later she joined the West Berlin Opera Ballet and entered a competition in Moscow, the capital of classical ballet. “When the Russians saw her dance, they thought she was Russian,” said her mother, who did most of Evdokimova’s talking in those days. In 1975 Eva tired of that relationship, and there was a blowup so significant that Eva refers to it as “the divorce.”
Eva met her husband, a free-lance conductor, while she was performing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1980. Gregori pursued her to Greece, where she was starring with Nureyev. They have been married five years, and he sees to it that her dance card is always filled. She hopes to dance more often in the U.S. in the near future. Meanwhile, the Americanization of Eva seems to be going strong. After a Berlin performance that brought her a 40-minute ovation and 67 curtain calls, she celebrated with a trip to—where else?—McDonald’s, for that most American of pleasures, a milkshake.