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RUDOLF NUREYEV DANCE FOUND. v. NOUREEVA-FRANCOIS

June 25, 1998

RUDOLF NUREYEV DANCE FOUNDATION, an Illinois not-for-profit corporation, Plaintiff, against ROZA NOUREEVA-FRANCOIS, RAZIDA EVGRAFOVA, GOUZEL NOUREEVA, ALFIA RAFIKOVA-YAGUDINA, VICTOR EVGRAFOV, and YURI EVGRAFOV, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHIN

AMENDED OPINION

 CHIN, D.J.

 Rudolf Nureyev was perhaps the greatest dancer of his time. He will be remembered not only for his brilliance on the stage, but for his daring flight to freedom in 1961, when he became the first of the great Russian dancers to defect to the West. He continued to dance, as a free man, for three decades.

 Nureyev died of AIDS-related illnesses in Paris on January 6, 1993. Although he was penniless when he defected, he eventually amassed a fortune and left a world-wide estate worth some $ 21 million.

 Two months before his death, Nureyev donated his American assets, with a value of $ 7 million, to a newly-created dance foundation. After his death, his sister and niece objected to the transfer. The dance foundation then commenced this action to "quiet title" -- to obtain a judgment declaring the gifts valid. Nureyev's sister and niece filed counterclaims seeking to void the transfer. They contend that Nureyev was not of sound mind when he executed the deeds of gift and that Nureyev was unduly influenced by his attorney, who was appointed by Nureyev to run the foundation. They contend further that the attorney took advantage of Nureyev's weakened state to gain control of a $ 7 million foundation.

 This case was tried to the Court in November 1997. Having considered all the evidence and the parties' arguments, I find that Nureyev's gifts to the dance foundation, the Rudolf Nureyev Dance Foundation ("RNDF"), were validly made and that Nureyev was of sound mind when he made them. In addition, I find that Barry Weinstein, Nureyev's attorney, did not unduly influence Nureyev.

 Rudolf Nureyev was a strong-willed person who dared to defy a government. He was not a person who could be manipulated or unduly influenced, and this remained true even near the end. He was surrounded by close friends who were articulate, successful people, who cared for him immensely, who were willing to disrupt their own lives to be with him, and who would not have let anyone take advantage of him. It is also clear that although Nureyev's dancing would not have been forgotten, he nevertheless wanted to leave behind a legacy. Charles Jude, one of Nureyev's closest friends, testified that Nureyev "thought he cannot die, he is a god" (Tr. 203), but Nureyev knew that he was a mere mortal in body. He wanted his name and spirit to carry on after his death and he created the foundation for that purpose. The evidence demonstrates unequivocally, and I so find, that Weinstein carried out the wishes of his client in good faith at all times and in an able and conscientious manner.

 Accordingly, judgment will be entered in favor of plaintiff. Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 52, my findings of fact and conclusions of law follow.

 STATEMENT OF THE CASE

 A. The Facts

 
1. Rudolf Nureyev

 Nureyev was born on March 17, 1938, on a train en route to Vladivostock, where his father was serving in the Russian army. In 1959, he joined the Kirov Ballet Company as a dancer. He quickly became a soloist, performing in ballets such as Swan Lake.

 On June 16, 1961, he defected to the West. At the end of a tour in Paris with the Kirov Ballet Company, as he was about to be returned to Moscow by two Russian policemen, he presented himself to French customs inspectors at Le Bourget airport. He requested political asylum, declaring, "I want to stay. I want to stay." (Rudolf Nureyev, The Bid for Freedom (hereinafter Bid for Freedom), in Rudolf Nureyev, Three Years in the Kirov Theatre 16, 23 (T.I. Zakrshevskaya, et al., eds., 1995) (hereinafter Three Years in Kirov Theatre) (see PX 141)).

 Nureyev explained his reasons for defecting as follows:

 
Now and then in life one has to take a decision like lightning, almost quicker than one can think. I have known this in dancing when something on the stage goes wrong. That is how it felt that hot morning in June 1961 on Le Bourget airfield, outside Paris, as I stood in the shadow of the great Tupolev aircraft which was to fly me back to Moscow.
 
Its huge wing loomed over me like the hand of the evil magician in Swan Lake. Should I surrender and make the best of it? Or should I, like the heroine of the ballet, defy the command and make a dangerous -- possibly fatal -- bid for freedom? During my stay in Paris I had felt the threat mounting. I was like a bird inside a net being drawn tighter and tighter. I knew this was a crisis.
 
For a bird must fly. I see nothing political in the necessity for a young artist to see the world: to compare, assimilate, to enrich his art with new experiences, both for his own profit and that of his country. A bird must fly, see the neighbor's garden and what lies beyond the hills, and then come home, enrich his people's lives with tales of how others live and the broadened scope of his art.

 (Bid for Freedom at 16).

 When Nureyev defected, he abandoned all that he had owned, including what he described as his "dearest worldly possessions" -- a collection of ballet shoes and leotards purchased during his travels around the world. He described how he felt moments after he defected, as he was being led away by the French authorities:

 
This was freedom, yet ironically, freedom was taking on the form of its exact opposite. Once again, policemen were on either side of me, but French this time. I was entering on a new life almost naked as when I was born.

 (Bid for Freedom at 24).

 Nureyev's "new life," of course, was a phenomenal success. After his death, he was described as:

 
the world's most famous dancer, a man who spent a quarter of a century on stage performing an average of some three hundred ballets a year. He took the best of Russian ballet with him to the West and in the process became known to people far outside the realm of dance. The leading choreographers of his day -- Frederick Ashton and Jerome Robbins, Martha Graham and Twyla Tharp, Roland Petit and Maurice Bejart -- created ballets exclusively for him. And Nureyev himself created his own versions of 'Cinderella' and 'Romeo and Juliet,' as well as updating numerous classical ballets. In his lifetime, Nureyev became a living monument to himself . . . .

 Three Years in Kirov Theatre at 13).

 In April 1992, after he stopped dancing, Nureyev conducted the American Ballet Orchestra for a performance of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Jeannette Etheredge, a longtime friend, testified at trial that when she attended the performance, she spent more time watching Nureyev in the orchestra pit than the dancers on stage. (Tr. 307). She explained why:

 
It was watching him with a new career in his life. And he was also the kind of person that when you saw him on stage, if there were 120 people on that stage, the only person you looked at was him. I mean, he had that kind of magnetism.

 (Tr. 312).

 
2. Nureyev's Family

 Nureyev had three sisters: Roza Noureeva-Francois ("Roza"), Razida Evgrafova ("Razida"), and Lilla ("Lilla"). Roza had a daughter, Gouzel Noureeva ("Gouzel"). Razida had two sons, Victor Evgrafov ("Victor") and Yuri Evgrafov ("Yuri"). Lilla had a daughter, Alfia Rafikova-Yagudina ("Alfia"), who also had a son, Rustan. Although Roza, Razida, Gouzel, Victor, Yuri, and Alfia were all named as defendants in this case, only Roza and Gouzel appeared in the action.

 
3. BPF

 In 1975, in consultation with his Swiss lawyer, Mme. Jeanette Thurnherr, Nureyev established the Ballet Promotion Foundation ("BPF"), a Liechtenstein foundation. *fn1" BPF had two purposes. First, it was to be used by Nureyev as a repository for his assets during his lifetime and as a vehicle for distributing his wealth after his death. Second, it was to be used to promote dance and to support ballet.

 The original beneficiaries of BPF were "dancers and other artists who perform in the art of ballet or persons who are related to the ballet." (PX 1). In 1980, BPF's "Deed of Formation" was amended to include as beneficiaries persons "who are closely connected with the dancer Rudolf Nureyev, in particular his mother, his sisters and their descendants." (PX 3; see also PX 35 at 8). The Deed of Formation was later amended again to clarify that further beneficiaries of the foundation may be dancers and other artists performing the art of ballet or persons related to the ballet." (PX 35 at 8).

 Nureyev discussed the subject of plans for his family with Thurnherr again in 1988. Thurnherr later prepared a triemorandum in which she noted that she and Nureyev had discussed the use of BPF assets to provide "benefits" for his family, including "grants" for education, fellowship, and travel. (PX 12 at 14). It was clearly Nureyev's desire to use BPF to provide for his family as well as to promote dance.

 
4. Nureyev's Lawyer

 Barry Weinstein, a Chicago businessman, is the President of RNDF. Although he is no longer practicing law, he was Nureyev's attorney for some 20 years, representing Nureyev in tax, estate, and other matters until Nureyev's death. He started representing Nureyev in 1974, primarily with respect to tax matters, when he was introduced to Nureyev by Sandor Gorlinsky, Nureyev's manager in London.

 Weinstein's role gradually expanded as he continued to perform legal work for Nureyev throughout the 1980's and into the early 1990's. Although Nureyev was an important client, Nureyev's work accounted for less than five percent of Weinstein's business. *fn2"

 In time, Nureyev began to rely more heavily on Weinstein, and he started calling on Weinstein for assistance even for matters outside the United States. In 1988, Nureyev asked Weinstein to become involved in the proposed purchase, for some $ 2.4 million, of a group of islands known as Li Galli in the Gulf of Salerno in Italy. *fn3" At the same time, Nureyev asked Weinstein, in conjunction with Thurnherr, to review his worldwide portfolio of properties for tax planning purposes.

 5. Nureyev's Acquisitions

 Although Nureyev was penniless when he defected in 1961, in time he acquired valuable real estate, artwork, and antiques. In 1980, he purchased an apartment in the Dakota in New York City. In 1981, he purchased Woodburn Farm, a 500-acre farm in Virginia. In 1982, again with Weinstein's assistance, Nureyev sold the Dakota apartment and purchased a larger one in the Dakota. Weinstein represented Nureyev in each of these transactions. In addition to providing legal services, Weinstein helped Nureyev select the properties.

 Nureyev also owned a home in La Turbie, France, and two apartments at Quai Voltaire in Paris. He also maintained a residence in Monte Carlo. He eventually purchased the Li Galli islands in Italy as well as a home in St. Barthelemy ("St. Bart's") in the French West Indies.

 In addition to acquiring real property, Nureyev was an avid collector of artwork (Old Master paintings, prints, and sculptures), furniture (including, for example, a 17th century Wainscot armchair, a 16th century Elizabethan "bedstead," a 17th century baroque cabinet, and a Victorian copper bathtub), antique chandeliers, musical instruments, jewelry, and ballet costumes. Most of the contents of the Dakota apartment were sold at an auction at Christie's in January 1995 that netted (after carrimissions and expenses) some $ 5 million. (Tr. 67).

 At the time of his death, Nureyev's world-wide assets were worth approximately $ 21 million, roughly $ 7 million of which was attributable to the assets in the United States. (Tr. 66).

 With assets all over the world and property in at least five different countries, Nureyev faced potential tax problems that required sophisticated tax and estate planning.

 6. Nureyev's Desire for Immortality

 Nureyev had long talked about establishing a school for dance, in part to perpetuate his name. Charles Jude, the star of the Paris Opera Ballet and one of Nureyev's closest friends, testified (in heavily accented English) that as early as 1985 Nureyev talked about establishing "a big school for dance, for dancer, for choreographer." (Tr. 182). When asked whether Nureyev ever discussed what he wanted to do with his money upon his death, Jude testified as follows:

 
I know [Rudolf] want to put all his money for his name first, for his name for the dance because his name is good with the dance. And he want to put everything to have his name go on as long as possible. . . . He thought if he give this money to [dance], his name would be immortalized.

 (Tr. 183). Nureyev also specifically told Jude that he wanted to do something for dance in America, for America was "very important for him." (Tr. 184).

 Andre Larquie, another long-time friend of Nureyev, confirmed that Nureyev "was always wishing to do, when he would not dance any more, to do something for the dancer and for . . . the improvement of the choreographic art." (Tr. 758). Roza, Nureyev's sister, testified at her deposition as follows:

 
Q. Would you agree that it would be consistent with your brother's life if his money was used to support ballet?
 
A. I think that we should continue everything, his work, his work; ...

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