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Nureyev dancing in Songs of a Wayfarer

“All is clear once more, yes, all is clear! Love and grief, the world and dreams...”

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After having danced the major works of a classical repertoire in London, along with creations by Ashton and MacMillan, in 1967 Rudolf Nureyev moved on to the French contemporary repertoire, firstly with Roland Petit and then with Maurice Béjart.

He wanted to start working with foreign contemporary companies to ensure he was better able to absorb a choreographer’s style. So after creating « Big Bertha » in New York with Paul Taylor’s dancers in 1970, Nureyev went to Brussels to dance Béjart’s « Le Sacre du Printemps » alternately with Jorge Donn and then in March 1971, he created – on the same programme – « Songs of a Wayfarer » in the vast National Forest Hall. This ballet was inspired by a series of melodies for baritone and orchestra by Gustav Mahler (« Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen ») and Béjart imagined a duo in four sequences, bringing together his best classical dancer, Paolo Bortoluzzi and Rudolf Nureyev. One was dressed in a maroon costume and the other in white (or black on some evenings !). The choreographer commented, « He is a wayfarer like the young apprentices of the Middle Ages, who went from town to town in search of their destiny and their master : here we have a romantic student (Nureyev) pursued by his destiny (Bortoluzzi), who suffers as he learns to use Mahler’s words (Mahler also wrote the words), ‘as if he had a knife plunged into his chest’, which is what the constant battle against oneself and against loneliness is like ». The four songs (“When my love”, “This morning I crossed the field”, “I have a burning blade in my breast”, “My beloved’s blue eyes”, in English) opposed Bortoluzzi, virtuoso, light and brilliant as the relentless Destiny to Nureyev, feline, supple and tormented, as the romantic hero looking for freedom but condemned to unhappiness, in an expressive, lyrical and highly intense duo.

The “Nureyev and Friends” group performed this beautiful, deeply human ballet all over the world. It travelled easily thanks to its extreme starkness. As well as the incomparable Paolo Bortoluzzi, Rudolf Nureyev had several other partners such as the Frenchmen Jean Guizerix and Charles Jude (on the many foreign tours until 1991) and Patrick Armand with the Ballet de Nancy at the Champs Elysées Theatre in 1983.

After sadly leaving the management of the Paris Opera Ballet, Nureyev was invited to take part in “Carte Blanche to Jean Guizerix” on October 23rd 1990 at the Palais Garnier. He danced the first and fourth songs with his young rival, Patrick Dupond, who had just succeeded him at the head of the Ballet de l’Opéra. The confrontation between the two dancers – one was shining at the height of his glory and the other star was already on the decline – was particularly poignant. The final image of Nureyev, dragged away by his Destiny, as he turns back for a final adieu to life and to the audience, took on a pathetic dimension since he – as well as his friends – knew he was appearing for the last time in this Theatre that was his home and that he had loved so well. The expression of despair on his face, with his hand painfully reaching out – in vain – towards the audience, to the very last words, “All is clear once more, yes, all is clear! Love and grief, the world and dreams”, remains engraved on the hearts of those who saw this unique performance. R.S.

Music : Gustav Mahler

Choreography : Maurice Béjart

Learn more After the death of Bortoluzzi, Donn and Nureyev – all three died of the same illness – Maurice Béjart didn’t want “Songs of the Wayfarer” to be danced any more. He only permitted it on the occasion of the gala organised at the Palais Garnier to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Nureyev’s death on January 20th 2003. Laurent Hilaire and Manuel Legris – both promoted “principal dancers” by Nureyev – were splendid performers, moving and inspired.