The great ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev was born in the tiny Soviet town of Ufa. He leaped and pirouetted his way out of peasant life, defecting to Paris in 1961. In a fictionalized biography that spans four decades, McCann recreates Nureyev's dreary roots and his decadent celebrity lifestyle (John Lennon pops by for a scene, as do Jackie O. and Mick Jagger). The story is told in a patchwork of voices, from his dance partner Margot Fonteyn to his coked-up sex partner at a Manhattan gay bathhouse. Unfortunately, the weakest sections are Nureyev's own. The man, spoiled by his own mythology, is a thinly drawn brat. More compelling are minor characters, like the shoemaker whose father warned him against the ballet: ''Stay out of the theaters, son...no point in seeing your shoes ripped to pieces....''