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By Patricia Boccadoro

ARIS, 3 November 1997 - Many in the audience attending the opening performance of the 1997/98 season at the Palais Garnier might have expected a wallow in nostalgia, returning to see Elisabeth Platel and Charles Jude dancing the same roles in "Swan Lake" as they did on the first night thirteen years ago.

But the ballet seemed even fresher and more "modern" since it's first controversial showing. The partnership of Platel, one of the most perfect classical ballerinas of our time, with the romantic Jude, creator of almost all Nureyev's works, has grown richer and developed along with the ballet which now has a history and life of it's own.

"Nureyev's Swan Lake has become our work of reference", said Charles Jude as he sipped an orange pressée before a costume try-out the day before the ballet's performance. "For me, it has always been the true version, but it was not always the case for the rest of the company, "he added with a smile.

It is amazing to recall those critics who threw up their arms in horror in 1984; even the corps de ballet rebelled against Nureyev's reconstruction, considering it "heretical" and over-complicated. To persuade them to dance he had to promise to stage their much-vaunted Bourmeister version the following year. But by then they had not only come round to his point of view, but they considered Bourmeister's version as inferior, and didn't want to dance it anymore. Too late! It had been programmed.

"The fact was," said Jude, "that Nureyev eliminated everything that was old- fashioned and made everyone in the company dance, not only the soloists. Before, there was pantomime.

He turned the ballet into a dream. Prince Siegfried is a reader of romantic novels ( at early rehearsals I actually held a book as the curtain opened),and to escape the loveless marriage his mother and tutor are trying to force on him, he enters into a world of make-believe, falling helplessly in love with his ideal woman, Odette, a royal princess who lives on the shores of an enchanted lake. The wicked magician Rothbart , who takes on the features of the tutor, has transformed her into a swan by day. She only returns to her human form at night.

It's a fairy-story, illogical from the beginning made credible by being transposed into the sub-conscious. The ending is not the triumph of evil, but the continuation of a quest for the perfection that can never be reached. Petipa always said that he wished his works to remain alive, and to move forward as techniques developed, and Rudolf said the same."

Jude's explanation that Nureyev's ballet was a different version which might eventually be overtaken by a future choreographer fits in with the history of the world's most famous ballet, first danced by the Bolshoi in 1877. Despite the haunting beauty of Tchaikovsky's score, the ballet, choreographed by Julius Reisinger was not a success, but limped along for five years before being totally revised and staged by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov in Saint Petersburg on 27 January 1895. (Rudolf Nureyev built his ballet upon this foundation).

Back in Moscow, Alexander Gorsky revised it again for the Bolshoi in 1901, and Messerer added his own changes some thirty years later. Dance in Russia provided an escape from the grim reality of everyday life, and after the revolution Soviet ideology demanded a happy ending. It should also be remembered that Swan Lake had no libretto. Some say it was invented by Tchaikovsky himself , based on tales he'd read, to entertain his nephews and nieces; for others it was inspired by the 18th century writer Johan Musaus.

Meanwhile, in Saint-Petersbourg the great Russian dancer, teacher, and director, Agrippina Vaganova produced her own adaptation in 1932 , followed by Lopokov (1945) , and Sergeyev(1950), danced by the English Royal Ballet - with personal touches added by Frederick Ashton and Ninette de Valois.

It was considered normal, essential even to constantly revive and renew the classics, and when I hear people argue about what is "authentic" and what is not, I wonder if audiences today would really want to see the "original" choreography.

The role of Siegfried was first danced by Pavel Gerdt ,the most famous Russian dancer of his time but a portly gentleman nonetheless, who is best remembered (in dance annuals) for his genius for mime. The image of the fifty-one year old Mr. Gerdt, staggering around the stage holding his ballerina aloft is not one we usually associate with the youthful Nureyev ,an artist of dazzling virtuosity, who arrived in London at the height of his form to dance Swan Lake with Margot Fonteyn. It was in 1963, and he was twenty-four years old.

It was hardly surprising that Nureyev wanted to make changes and to emphasise the romantic nature of the Prince he added the now well-known " melancholy solo". The following year, he staged his own version for the Vienna Opera Ballet enlarging the prince's role, but then waited twenty years to revise his choreography to suit the Paris company's outstanding possibilities.

The French troupe did not dance Swan Lake until 1960, in a version staged by Vladimir Bourmeister seven years before when Tchaikovsky's score was used in it's original sequence. Doubtless a praiseworthy reconstruction when first seen in France, by 1984 it had lost the initial aura it might once have had.

"Rudolf brought us the grand Petipa", said Elisabeth Platel over tea recently."What we had before is a shadow of what we have now. He always kept the traditional version, only adding for the male dancers who had so little to do earlier. Tightening up the plot to add dramatic force, he nevertheless restored the 19th century mime scene where Odette introduces herself to Siegfried".

"Rudolf Nureyev's version is divine", continued Platel. " His ballets are a joy to dance. When I created the role of Odette, who is a princess and not a bird with ridiculous arm movements, I remember being petrified in case I couldn't manage all the steps but now I want it to go on for ever. I've never enjoyed dancing anything so much in my life. He got rid of all the little feathers we didn't need. Nureyev also worked with the musicians and designers to create a work of art .We never had ballets like these before".

"These" refers to the forthcoming season when three more of Nureyev's ballets are programmed as a tribute to their director (1983/ 1989), who died five years ago. Swan Lake Palais Garnier 11 October - 2 Nov 1997; Raymonda Opéra Bastille 2 Dec - 17 Jan 1998; Don Quichotte Palais Garnier 14 May - 6 June 1998; Romeo and Juliet Opera Bastille 29 May 29 - 15 July 1998

There's an amusing side to this of course. Those who complained about the complicated steps may not know that the origins of the difficult short variations were Nureyev's warming-up exercises, added when he was on tour and didn't have the time to take lessons himself.


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