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He first danced the role of
Solor with the Kirov company in Saint-Petersburg in 1959; when not
dancing, he would watch every performance he could, memorising,
analysing and absorbing not only the steps, but the style,
construction, content and meaning of the work. And it was as Solor
that he electrified audiences in Paris when he arrived with the Kirov
in the spring of 1961.
The Kingdom of the Shades
(there were twenty-four "shades") was the first major
production he re-staged for Covent Garden in November, 1963,
re-creating each step from memory. Nine years later, he was invited to
mount it for the Paris Opera Ballet (this time, with thirty-two "shades").
repeatedly asked Dame Ninette de Valois to present the complete work
in London, but after Natalia Makarova's version (re-mounted for
American Ballet Theatre in 1980) was programmed there in 1989, in
honour of Margot Fonteyn's 70th birthday, history came full circle
when his more opulent, more authentic staging became the property of
the Paris Opéra Ballet instead.
Makarova's version may be, she nevertheless "condensed" the
original four-act work into three, used an arrangement of Minkus'
music, and made various cuts throughout, returning to the twenty-four
"shades" (Petipa himself programmed 48 "shades").
Rudolf Nureyev went back to the original sources, using not only
Petipa's notes, conserved in the Museum of the Bakhrouchine Theatre in
Moscow to give authenticity to the dramatic scenes, but also obtained
the original Minkus score.
Mario Bois (Musical
Editions Mario Bois), described the day in 1989 when Rudolf Nureyev
arrived in his office announcing his intention to re-stage The
Bayadère using the complete original score of Ludwig
Minkus, the official ballet composer of both the Bolshoi and Kirov
"When I reminded him that it was not
available outside Russia, he simply smiled telling me not to worry
because he'd see to it", said Bois. "The next thing I knew",
Bois continued, "was when Rudolf staggered into my office with
what appeared to be the whole score of several ballets. He had been to
Russia on Gorbachev's invitation for a lightening 48 hour visit, and
amidst all his commitments with ceremonies, ballets, and meetings,
he'd managed to get hold of photo-copies of Minkus' original score!"
"Goodness knows how he found the time", said Mario
Bois, "but when I looked closely, I found that his photocopies
had been made vertically instead of horizontally, as the machine had
evidently been too small for the large manuscript. Consequently, each
page had been photocopied twice, but none of the sheets of music
corresponded to the next. In his hurry, Rudolf hadn't worried about
the order, and nothing had been numbered."
like a jigsaw puzzle, but after we got Act 1 together, we discovered
that many other pages were barely legible as the machine had obviously
been running out of ink..... and that on others, Minkus had only
written piano music. Worse, while there were only one or two notes on
some sheets, it seemed complete pages were missing. The work of
reconstruction was diabolical, for we had an ocean of pages almost
impossible to read."
"The main problem was the
orchestration, which Rudolf couldn't write. He wanted John Lanchbery,
who was so happy to help him, that he arrived almost immediately."
"But that wasn't all", Bois recollected, "for
the evening before Lanchbery's arrival with his own incomplete score,
I suddenly realised there was no piano at Rudolf's flat for them to
"No piano. harpsichord", stated
"I remember looking at him in amazement.
Beautiful though his harpsichord was, it was 18th century, and not
properly tuned. I pointed out it was hardly suited to work out a whole
"No piano. Harpsichord."
despair, it occurred to me that one of my children had a small
electric organ; if Rudolf was adamantly against renting a piano, it
was easily transportable, and certainly more practical than an antique
harpsichord, and so there they were, John Lanchbery and Rudolf Nureyev
working day and night on one tattered score and one incomplete one, on
my son's electric organ!"
"Listening to the pair
of them reading the music together must have been rather like watching
Petipa with Tchaikovsky," recalled Bois, "for Rudolf started
pouncing on certain melodies - identifying a pas de deux, then
cutting things here, adding bars there, wanting a woman's variation
where there was none. John's contribution was to find the linking
material and ensure harmonisation with the barest of changes. After
they'd sorted out the piano music, they began with the orchestration,
and remaining very respectful to Minkus, put together a solid musical
text in the six months before rehearsals began."
sad then, that the Orchestre de l'Opéra National de Paris,
directed by Vello Pahn, couldn't have shown a little of that respect
not only to Minkus, but also to Nureyev, Lanchbery, and the
exceptional dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet.
On one of the
evenings I was there, it was rumoured that the troupe had been hit by
sickness and injury, but this was not evident. It was the motley
collection of musicians in the orchestra pit who were ravaged by some
vicious form of sleeping sickness, not that it prevented a smirking
group from playing "footsie" during the overture. On another
occasion, some were singing. And as far as their playing was
concerned, at times they were barely audible, so much so, that it was
reported that Isabelle Guèrin (who created the role of Nikiya
in 1992), threatened to leave because she couldn't hear the music.
It is a curious thing, but given Stravinsky or Prokofiev,
the orchestra have no problems. They also tackle Wagner reasonably
well. In the past, Lanchbery has occasionally had problems with
orchestras who have deliberately played "ballet music"
badly. Those concerned would do well to listen to Daniel Barenboim,
who recently conducted Tchaikovsky for the Berlin State Opera Ballet,
or the Bolshoi or Kirov orchestras, where the quality of the music is
one of the highspots of the evening.
As long ago as 1838,
Theophile Gautier wrote that the very word "bayadère"
evoked "sunshine, perfume, and beauty. His article spoke of the "dreams
in the form of shuttered pagodas, idols of jade, and jewelled
elephants with howdahs on their backs", as in Petipa's ballet.
And no one has re-staged Petipa's works quite like Rudolf Nureyev. His
elephant is blue and gold, turquoise, silver and white, the very
colours of the Kirov Theatre. It is a wondrous creature which fires
the imagination as does this last, great reconstruction of Rudolf
But how extraordinary that it was a Russian who
brought back to France what a Frenchman had given to Russia.
centre page : ICARE / Moatti
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Patricia Boccadoro writes on
dance in Europe. She contributes to The Observer and Dancing Times and was
dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms.
Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com.
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