Dancing StarDancing Star

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2024
Original album - Nonetheless
Producer - James Ford
Subsequent albums - none
Other releases - single

Neil stated in the "Letters" section of Annually 2021 that he and Chris had written a song about Rudolf Nureyev during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. "Dancing Star" turns out to be that song, having been inspired by a television documentary Neil had watched about the expatriate Russian ballet dancer. Described by The Guardian journalist Laura Snapes as "an ecstatic hymn" set in London's "swinging 'sixties," it was released as the second single from Nonetheless in April 2024.

Chris has revealed that this track, however, did not originate as a song about Nureyev but rather as a demo he wrote about being at the beach with the words, "I love it here. Let's stay forever." That, in fact, is why it opens and closes with the sounds of waves and seagulls. But once Neil got his hands on it the song took a very different turn. They nonetheless decided to retain the beach sound effects, which may be thematically significant. For one thing, they fit and probably even inspired the opening reference to the Italian resort town of Amalfi. (See the annotation about Amalfi below.) Yet, if you recall, their much earlier classic "Go West" also opens with waves and seagulls. And "Dancing Star" concerns a man who indeed "went West" from the Soviet Union. The "Go West" connection becomes meaningful not only by virtue of those sound effects and Nureyev's defection from the Soviet Union but also on account of the Boys having originally recorded that old Village People song as a "disco dirge" for victims of AIDS, the disease that would also claim Nureyev's life.

Widely regarded as the greatest male ballet star of his generation, Nureyev was born in 1938 in the Soviet Union and gained stardom there, but he famously defected to the West in 1961, during the height of the Cold War. He settled first in London, becoming Principal Dancer of The Royal Ballet, and then later in Paris, where he became director and chief choreographer of the Paris Opera Ballet. In 1977 he made an attempt at film stardom, taking on the title role in the biographical film Valentino. It was not a major success, but Nureyev generally got reasonably good reviews for his performance. Also during the late 1970s he became something of a fixture in celebrity nightlife circles (including occasional visits to Studio 54 in New York City), but he began to eschew the social limelight in the 1980s. He tested positive for HIV in 1984 but kept the fact secret for several years, with a decline in his health and his dancing becoming apparent only toward the end of the decade. By 1991 he was living with full-blown AIDS. He passed away at the age of 54 from complications of the disease on January 6, 1993.

Getting back to the song itself, "Dancing Star" is an uptempo track with prominent percussion effects, harkening back in some ways to the "classic PSB sound" of the 1980s. (Neil has said that he felt Chris's original demo sounded "like early Madonna," which helps explain its decided 'eighties flavor.) It's therefore perhaps not too surprising that Neil should start out speaking his lyrics, a more common practice for him early in their career than later on. The lyrics take the form of an interior monologue in Nureyev's mind—in the second person, addressing himself as "you," an intriguing narrative device—as he relaxes on the beach at the Italian resort town of Amalfi, "a long way from Siberia." He wonders, "How did you get here?"

The story takes off from there. It tells of how he defected at Paris's Orly Airport, taking "all the KGB boys by surprise." This, Neil suggests, is typical for Nureyev, who "broke the rules over and over again," both artistically and otherwise. He's "a trouble-maker among sombre men." The narrative then moves to "the streets of London" during the 1960s, a time when that city was essentially the cultural capital of the pop world. Nureyev had become "the brightest star in town / Always a scandal and a real heart-breaker" with males and females alike.

Neil lists a string of cities in Europe and North America where the jet-setting dancing star would appear. But a note of "outside retrospection" creeps in toward the end as Neil steps out from Nureyev's interior monologue and offers a final personal comment about him: "How bright you shone and still shine now, although you've gone." The track closes with those crashing waves and seagulls again, a final note of continuity—things that go on after our own lives have passed.



Officially released

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