By Patricia Boccadoro
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.
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.
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
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."
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).
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.
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
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"
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.
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".
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".
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
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.