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Rudolf Nureyev Title

by Patricia Boccadoro

ARIS, 17 March 1999 - Born on Saint Patrick's day 1938, Rudolf Nureyev would have celebrated his sixty first birthday today. It would be hard to find a greater tribute to his immense talent and the heritage he left behind him than the superlative performance of The Bayadère, on January 6th (anniversary of his death), at the Opera Bastille.

Elisabeth Platel's interpretation of Nikiya the temple dancer, passionate, intense and yearning from the moment she appeared on stage touched perfection; Agnès Letestu, as the proud and beautiful Princess Gamzatti, the role Nureyev gave her when she was only a member of the corps de ballet, was dramatically and technically brilliant, while Nicolas Le Riche as Solor, the Indian warrior unable to choose between the two of them, gave a heart-stopping performance.

When I first saw The Bayadère in October 1992, it was a magnificent production, full of Russian soul and Russian excess; a melodrama rendered more moving by the fact that it was obviously Nureyev's last ballet, despite the fact he had already begun working on The Prince of the Pagodas. It was the perfect vehicle to demonstrate the astonishing and diversified talent of the company he had made the best in the world since his appointment as artistic director almost ten years before.

But with time, it has become far more than that. A much sharper edge is being given to the dramatic side, with greater emphasis on the mime, making the events very real. It is no fairy-tale, but the drama of a man who hesitates between his heart and his duty, (indirectly bringing about the death of the one he loves), and the tragedy of two women who stop at nothing to keep him. It contains a whole range of human emotions; love, hate, betrayal, weakness, possessiveness, jealousy, and violence.

The unfolding of Nureyev's version (see synopsis), which closely follows that of the Kirov, ends when the despairing Solor resorts to opium and is transported to another world where he joins Nikiya in one of the most famous "white acts" in the history of classical dance.

In the purest example of the classical style of Marius Petipa, the spirits of long-dead Hindu temple dancers, thirty-two of them, make a slow, hypnotic descent in arabesque from a ramp at the back of the stage, appearing as if from heaven. Wreathed in mystery, a second's hesitation from any one of them could break the spell.

Patrice Bart (Nureyev's assistant from 1986, now ballet master associated to the director) responsible for this dream-like lyricism, spoke to me of the problems in staging the work six years after Nureyev's death. "Most of the corps de ballet are young dancers from the school who never knew Rudolf, have never danced in his productions, and are unfamiliar with the Petipa style which he made his own", Bart said.

"There are fewer people here now who worked with him and who understand why he demanded certain steps, how he wanted them done and above all, why everything had to be done in a specific way. Before, I worked with Genia Polyakov and Alexandre Kalioujny; we were Rudolf's children so to speak, but now they are no longer here, I am trying to pass on Rudolf's vision to the teachers as well as the dancers."


Paris Opera Ballet - The Bayadere


"Fortunately", he continued, "there are the étoiles who worked with Rudolf - Laurent Hilaire, Elisabeth Platel, Isabelle Guérin, Manuel Legris, and Florence Clerc and Ghislaine Thesmar who knew his way of working well, and are now teaching here. We are guarding our heritage preciously but it's a constant battle to keep the energy, rigour and "look" that Nureyev gave us.

"Because of the difficulties , we took extra care and time to do everything thoroughly, including renewing all the hand-embroidered white and silver tutus and it seems to have worked."

At its creation, on October 8th, 1992, the Paris dancers had barely three weeks to rehearse and stage the work, accomplished under difficult conditions as Nureyev was so tired. Only the third act, the "Kingdom of the Shades", had been danced before.

"I try to do as Rudolf did", said the ballet master, "He used to watch the very last member of the corps de ballet who would do anything for him. I tell them that they are all the danseuse étoile; all Nikiyas descending from the heights of the Himalayas, all bayadères, pure, limpid, luminous. I tell them to breathe the music, and be proud, strong and moving, reminding them constantly they are individuals, not an army of robots."

Bart likened the ballet, with its spectacular, vast proportions to a grand opera, "Maybe Aida, created only six years earlier," he said, "With roles for the soprano, mezzo, tenor, and baritone. After all, the dramatic element in both works is a love tangle. Aida is the Ethiopian slave loved by Radames, who, like Solor in the ballet, is engaged to Amneris, a princess like Gamzatti."

Laurent Hilaire, who created the role of Solor, explained that each time the ballet was programmed, the company re-worked and re-thought things through. "The interpreters have matured," he said, "and each time the work is performed, discoveries are made and superfluous details discarded. These nineteenth century classics are the pillars of classical dance. Nureyev left his trace through his ballets and we are transmitting his works in such a way that they remain meaningful to a changing public.

"Before Nureyev, we had no tradition of mime here because we had a limited repertory. He brought us the best of Covent Garden as well as of the Kirov."

Which is where Rudolf Nureyev's own story with The Bayadère began. READ ON------>>>>>

Photo centre page : ICARE / Moatti


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