He was an ethnic Tatar. He was educated at the Leningrad Ballet School and starred with Kirov Ballet. His first film was a USSR short Le Corsaire (1958). While performing in Paris in 1961 he defected to the West. He then performed internationally, becoming an Austrian citizen in 1982. The English/French documentary I Am a Dancer (1972), directed by Pierre Jourdan featured him and his long-time partner Margot Fonteyn. He played Rudolph Valentino in the film Valentino (1977) and Daniel Jelline in Exposed (1983), his last film. In 1982, he starred in the US stage revival of "The King and I".