By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 27 MARCH 2014 After an absence of 9 years, Rudolf
Nureyevs majestic restaging of Petipas Sleeping Beauty
filled up every seat at the huge Opera Bastille at each of the 23
performances of the work over the Christmas season, and had there been
more, then they would have been filled too. His productions, not least
this one which keeps so close to Petipas spirit and structure, are
magnificent; every time one of his works is programmed, seats are
immediately snatched up by an avid public and 'La Belle, as it is
affectionately known in Paris, was no exception. The spectacular fairytale
atmosphere as well as the splendid baroque dance of Act 3 makes it a feast
for the eyes as well as for the heart, a true homage to 17th and 18th
century French ballet. It was a key work in Nureyevs career, the ultimate
expression of the Saint Petersburg style which lies at the root of all his
As early as 1966, Nureyev had created a version for La Scala of Milan,
followed by other productions in Toronto, London and Vienna, refining his
work until his last version, one of his finest, for the French company in
1989. With Ezio Frigerios sumptuous décor, evocative of the Chateau de
Versailles with all its elegance, ritual and power, Franca Squarciapinos
exquisite jewel encrusted costumes, and the fairies, courtiers and princes
in a last act worthy of the court of Louis XIV, the
Sun King and is indeed the ballet of ballets, as Nureyev himself was
wont to say.
Rudolf Nureyev's Sleeping
Paris Opera Ballet
He kept close to the original plot as well as to much of the
traditional choreography, but developed the role of the Prince who, in the
original version, did not arrive on stage until three-quarters of the way
through the ballet, a fact which distressed many balletomanes in London in
the early 1960s.
Prince Désiré was thus transformed from a quiet, conventional hero into
a romantic, charismatic young aristocrat, who strode arrogantly around the
stage before falling passionately in love with the princess seen in a
dream. Moreover, being frequently on tour and lacking time to warm-up
before a performance, Nureyev put his lessons and exercises into Act 2,
many of them difficult and complicated steps, in order to be ready for the
spectacular solos and pas de deux later.
But while Florian Magnenet as Désiré accomplished the tricky warming
up exercises with grace and softness, his dancing showing evidence of
excellent coaching, he had difficulty with the virtuoso solos which were
not virtuoso at all. A tall, pleasant-looking boy, he might have had the
allure of a prince, but not for Nureyevs ballets. He lacked both charisma
and the bravoura technique the role demands.
There was excellent dancing from Sabrina Mallem, brilliant and
beautiful as the sinister Carabosse who personifies the forces of
darkness, who pricks the princess herself with a fatal, glittering pin
taken from her own headdress, as well as from Marc Moreau and Charline
Giezendanner as the Bluebird and the princess Florine.
Rudolf Nureyev's Sleeping Beauty
Photo: Sebastien Mathé
However the ballet, as its title suggests, revolves around the Princess
Aurore, one of the most difficult roles in the classical repertoire, both
technically and artistically. The ballerina must evolve from a joyful
young girl to a serene, mysterious spirit in the vision scene, and finally
to an aristocratic, radiant young woman in the space of a couple of hours.
Programmed for one performance but finally interpreting four, Amandine
Albisson, member of the corps de ballet until her promotion to
première danseuse this year, was an adorable Princess Aurore.
From the instance she arrived on stage, a bubble of lightness and joy, she
was Aurore, bringing freshness and charm to the stultifying atmosphere of
the court. Technically, the complex choreography held no difficulties
for her, with her effortless, airy jumps, while the greeting of the four
princes come to seek her hand in marriage, a pitfall for many ballerinas,
was accomplished with delicacy and precision. Twenty-five years old on the
day of our interview, she is a young dancer able to reach out to touch the
hearts of her audience, whose future holds great promise.
"I was so very happy and excited when I learned Id been programmed to
dance Aurore", Albisson told me in between rehearsals for her next
important role, Tatiana in John Crankos Onegin.
"However, I felt a lot of stress wondering whether I was ready to
interpret Aurore, but once I began working with Agnès Letestu in October,
my apprehension faded. Id hurt my foot shortly before," she added, "so at
the beginning I wasnt on form and was full of doubts which Agnès quickly
dissipated. She is a wonderful teacher, not only as regards the technical
and artistic side, but she instills a quiet confidence in her pupils being
so patient and generous in every way."
"Sleeping Beauty has the reputation of being the most
technically difficult of all the classical ballets as well as being
artistically demanding", she continued, "as the character of the princess
develops throughout the work. But its the kind of role I love as well as
being the first time I interpreted the heroine in one of Rudolf Nureyevs
Rudolf Nureyev's Sleeping
Paris Opera Ballet
Photo: Sebastien Mathé
Amandine Albisson, blessed also with a perfect ballerina physique,
with her ideal proportions, lovely feet and expressive face, grew up in a
theatrical atmosphere. Her mother, now a ballet teacher, was a dancer with
Petits famed company in Marseilles, while her father, a baritone, was
a singer by profession, so her early years were often spent in the wings
of theatres, watching her parents perform.
She began dance at the early age of three, loving the fun of movement,
before beginning classical lessons, but it wasnt until she came to Paris
at the age of 7 to take part in a dance competition that she first visited
the Palais Garnier, and went to see a ballet there.
"Thats where I want to dance", she told me she declared to her mother,
and so she took the entrance examination to the school, passing it at the
age of 10. Enjoying every moment of her training, first with Claude Bessy
and then with Elisabeth Platel, she entered the French company at the age
of 17, where she relished both classical and contemporary work.
"I love to dance different things, and while going from classical to
modern isnt easy, it does avoid the monotony of routine. Ive danced in
ballets by Kylian, Mats Ek, Pina Bausch, and of course, Roland Petit.
Interpreting Le Loup with Audric Bezard as my partner was a
wonderful experience. I regret we dont get the time to see much of what
is happening outside of the opera, apart from when visiting companies,
such as the Bolshoi come. Practically all I have time to see comes from
what is shown on the internet."
"I particularly loved watching the Bolshoi star, Evgenia Obraztsova,
Sylphide, a role I also danced last year. And we are fortunate to
have so many étoiles here who are all different, both
temperamentally and physically. There is no norm."
This is also true of the male étoiles, both Mathieu Ganio and
Mathias Heymann giving excellent, but radically different interpretations
of Nureyevs prince in different casts.
*Subsequent casts also saw
corps de ballet members, Laura Hecquet and Heloise Bourdon, give
remarkable performances although neither was partnered by Ganio nor
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has
contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance
consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in
Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for
Related Culturekiosque Dance Archives
The Frye-ku Folio: 37, 38,
Is Nureyev's Romeo and Juliet the Best