By Patricia Boccadoro
24 February 2000 - "Time, time, I have no time", was
Rudolf Nureyev's frequent lament, yet just months before his enforced
departure as artistic director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, he
succeeded in re-staging his majestic version of The Sleeping
Beauty, the most resplendent of all the great nineteenth century
Ten years on, the shining "ballet of ballets"
has been polished and pruned, and minor imperfections smoothed away to
provide a glittering setting for Aurora and her prince, sublimely
interpreted on 18 January by Agnès
Letestu and José Martinez, the charismatic star couple
whose partnership dates back to the recreation of the work in March
1989. Their radiance and joy of dancing are making them unique in the
world of classical ballet today.
Rudolf Nureyev's own story
with The Sleeping Beauty in the West began in 1961, when he
danced the role of the prince with the Grand Ballet du Marquis de
Cuevas in Paris.
"I was in the corps de ballet at the
time", recalled Opéra étoile (1972), Ghislaine
Thesmar, who coached Sylvie Guillem and Agnès Letestu in the
role of Aurora , "and I will never forget his dreadful white wig,
covered with little pink beads which he said made him feel like a
Christmas tree. Although it was a hot June evening, he thought he was
taking part in a musical comedy and all the sequins and scintillating
decorations were for Christmas."
later", she continued, "I partnered him when we performed
the work together at the Palais des Congrès. He loved the idea
of dancing it with a French girl because it was a French story,
adapted into a ballet by a French choreographer. Dancing with him took
me back in time, into the seventeenth century, where we were telling
the fairy story to the very aristocratic world of the Russian Czar and
"Rudolf considered it as an exercise
in style that had to be danced in the grand academic manner. In his
own productions, (1966, 1972, 1975, 1980, 1989, and 1992), each port
de bras had to be danced in the classical manner, for he wanted
the postures and positions seen in drawings of courtly dance during
the reign of Louis XI. Protocol had to be respected, and you had to
stand very straight to wear the structured costumes, the corsets, hats
and feathers. We had to learn how to wear a costume as much as to
dance the steps, and to respond to what he called the 'grandeur of the
dream', for he had the soul of a child, and would relive the story
each time he heard the music. He was very pure in that sense."
much can be done with Ezio Frigerio's glinting over-ornate scenery of
the first act, especially made to fit the huge Bastille stage, with
the gold and green curtain, the gold and green pillars in the palace,
the golden doors, golden decorations, and gold on the costumes, but
once you've swallowed that, you can settle down to a sumptuous feast
of music, dance, and beauty, where each costume is a work of art by
The choreography of Petipa has been handed down
virtually intact, Nureyev having merely done away with a lot of what
he called the 'bla bla chi-chi poo' flourishes added around the
essential pieces, keeping the Rose adagio, and the grand
pas de deux of the final act rigorously as they were.
he has done, arousing the ire of many die-hard traditionalists, is
introduce a seven minute solo for the prince in act 11, "monstrously"
enlarging the role of the prince. And thank goodness he did, for,
interpreted as it was on the evening I saw it, it is one of the most
moving sequences of the work.
The origin of these steps lies
in the fact that Nureyev rarely had time to warm-up before going on
stage when on tour, and thus incorporated his exercises into the
prince's variation when he escapes from a hunting party in the forest
prior to falling in love with Aurora, who is brought to him in a
Ghislaine Thesmar did not only partner Nureyev in
The Sleeping Beauty. When she was eighteen, she was taught the
role by Lubov Egorova, one of the greatest of all Russian teachers,
who danced at the Maryinsky Theatre while Petipa was still working
there. Closer to authenticity would be hard to get.
was more concerned about the way I behaved than the steps I did",
recalled Thesmar . "Aurora is a vulnerable young girl, a fifteen
year old princess who grows up into a woman in the second half of the
ballet, and then dances with the panache of a great aristocrat It's a
very subtle role."
"I'm working as Rudolf wanted,
with emphasis on the style and atmosphere. I want Letestu's Aurora to
be totally spontaneous in the first act, and I'll love it if she makes
some small mistakes, she's so wonderful and free. But in the last act
we'll keep rigorously to the style. She is a ballerina with real star
quality who lights up on stage, yet possesses the mental purity to
become Aurora, who lives through pure love. Every emotion in this
ballet is absolute, and there are no compromises."
can admire many great artists who dance very well, but they are not
capable of giving everything as Letestu does, and when the audience
feels that, it is exceptional. She is a gorgeous, wonderful, and
beautiful woman, with the fragile heart of a very young girl. In
common with Rudolf Nureyev, she believes in fairy-tales. Moreover, in
José Martinez, she has the perfect partner . He brings her
something more earthy, more fiery, from his Spanish heritage. She is
happy with José, and on stage, something happens, for they both
have the adrenaline to make it work."
Letestu proved an exquisite Aurora from the moment she skipped
light-heartedly onto the stage. She was natural and delicate in Act I,
serene and lyrical in the vision scene, and danced with brilliance and
panache in the grand pas de deux of the final act.
Martinez , an authentic classical dancer, was not an ethereal
story-book prince, but a lively, warm-hearted , very masculine young
man searching for and finding his ame sur, and his
interpretation of the tricky, Act II variation was utterly
magnificent. He dared to transform the jerky, rather fussy steps into
a solo of great loveliness, timing it differently, slowing it down,
and breaking the sequence of steps, at one with the music.
scene with Beatrice Martel as the Lilac Fairy, who takes him by boat
over misty waters to Aurora's castle was sheer poetry, beautifully
interpreted, and the moment of Aurora's awakening pure enchantment
grand pas de deux was brilliant and regal. Logical successors
of a long line of Russian princes and princesses, Letestu and Martinez
danced instinctively as one, their long, graceful limbs falling
naturally along the same lines.
This is no airy-fairy,
wishy-washy staging, but a work in keeping with the Kirov tradition,
which is where it was created. Nureyev used to constantly remind the
dancers that many of the soloists, including the fairies, were
mistresses of the Czar and were very strong-minded young ladies full
of spirit, speed, and energy, qualities which also had to come out in
the dancing of Aurora.
The Sleeping Beauty embodies
one of Nureyev's greatest gifts of all to the company ; in the
wonderfully 'noble' bearing he instilled in them, and the classical
excellence and precision to dance such works.
directed the Orchestre de l'Opéra National de Paris who played
splendidly, fully deserving their standing ovation. If they played
Minkus a fraction this well, I should have no quarrel with them.
Story by Marius Petipa and Ivan Vsevolojsky
after a fairytale by Charles Perrault
Choreography by Rudolf
Nureyev after Marius Petipa
Music by Tchaikovsky
Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Guardian,
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.