by Patricia Boccadoro
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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."
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
Photo centre page :
ICARE / Moatti