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Nureyev dancing in Petrushka


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Created on June 13th 1911 at the Châtelet Theatre by Nijinsky, Karsavina, Orlov and Cecchetti. Rudolf Nureyev danced the role of Petrushka for the first time on October 24th 1963 with the Royal Ballet. This popular Russian character, on which his strong personality left its mark, was one of his most moving compositions. It is impossible to forget the expressive image of his gloved hands holding his pathetic, white-painted face under the clown’s hat. He performed Petrushka all through his career and all over the world, particularly at the Paris Opera in 1972, 73 and 75, with Noella Pontois and Charles Jude (Yves-André Hubert filmed them for Antenne 2 TV channel, which broadcast the ballet on December 27th 1976), in New York and Chicago with the Joffrey Ballet in 1979 and 1980, dancing the same programme in homage to Diaghilev, Fokine’s “Le Spectre de la Rose” and Nijinsky’s “Après-midi d’un Faune” (the whole performance was filmed in Nashville in 1980).

Rudolf Nureyev went on long tours with this programme and the Ballet de Nancy in 1982 – dancing at the Châtelet Theatre among other venues, which is where the ballet was created by Nijinsky – to Florence and London, then all of Latin America in 1983, Nancy in 1984 and 1986, the Edinburgh Festival in 1987 etc. Rudolf Nureyev danced Petrushka for the last time in Naples with the San Carlo Ballet on December 15th 1990. The action takes place in Saint Petersburg in 1830 as the Shrove Tuesday celebrations take place. An old charlatan draws the crowds round his fairground stall, where – with a wave of his wand – he brings three marionettes to life: the shy Petrushka who is in love with the Doll, a pretty thing who prefers a stupid Moor’s attentions. Petrushka suffers from the fact he is no more than a puppet who cannot express his love like a human being. He turns against his rival who – in a fit of anger – follows after him and splits his head open with a huge blow of his scimitar, in front of the terrified crowd. The old charlatan reassures the audience by showing them that Petrushka is no more than a rag doll. He drags him away like a dead body when, horrified, he sees Petrushka (or his spirit, the spirit of the Russian people?) mocking him above the stall, before collapsing pitifully, falling lifeless to the ground. Petrushka is a popular hero like Pierrot in France and the public is moved by his sensitivity, his unhappy love story and the acknowledgment of his desperate situation, manipulated by a charlatan who forces him to play this sad part.

Music by Stravinsky

Libretto by Stravinsky and Alexandre Benois, who also designed the décor and costumes.

Choreography : Mikhail Fokine