In 1961, Nureyev introduces the Parisian public to the Kingdom of the Shades.
As is the case for most of Marius Petipa’s ballets, La Bayadère remained unknown in the West because the 1950 s’ «Iron Curtain» put a halt to all cultural exchanges. The revelation came about in 1961, when the Kirov Ballet was on tour in Paris and London..
It was at the Palais Garnier that Act III of La Bayadère (The Kingdom of the Shades) unfolded its hypnotic procession of 32 bayadères in white tutus and veils – turned into ghosts (Shades) - as they slowly descend - one by one in a series of arabesques penchées - a slope that symbolises their appearance from the netherworld. « The procession deploys its sinuous line across the stage before ending in four parallel rows, an impressive effect achieved with very little means. This scene marked the beginning of the symphonic ballet », wrote Vera Krassovskaya, a Russian Dance Historian.
All his life, Marius Petipa worked towards producing this « symphonic ballet », the perfect harmony between music and dance which is almost abstract, « graphic » (focussing on the groups’ lines and movements, geometrically occupying the stage space), as witnessed by the « Enchanted Garden » in The Corsair (1868), the Dryads scene in Don Quixote (1869), Aurora’s « vision » in Act II of Sleeping Beauty (1890), the snowflakes’ waltz at the end of Act I in The Nutcracker (1892) with Lev Ivanov, Acts II and IV of Swan Lake (1895) – again with Lev Ivanov – and the dream waltz in Act I of Raymonda (1898). George Balanchine (1904 – 1893) followed in Petipa’s footsteps, translating music into movement. A certain number of contemporary chorographers also acknowledge the Kingdom of the Shades as the genesis for their « minimalist » quest. (Lucinda Childs’ ballet Dance (1979) - obsessionally identical and yet constantly changing - set to Philip Glass’ « repetitive » music is the perfect example of this). J.L.B.
* Apart from Sleeping Beauty performed by Serge Diaghilev’s « Ballets Russes » in London in 1921 and extracts from Swan Lake (Act II), mounted at the Paris Opera by Serge Lifar in 1936 and by Victor Gsofsky in 1946 (cf. Sleeping Beauty, cf Swan Lake).
« The Kingdom of the Shades » from La Bayadère: Nureyev’s first choreography, after Petipa.
It was at the request of Frederick Ashton – the new Director of the Royal Ballet in London (he succeeded Dame Ninette de Valois in 1963) – that Rudolf Nureyev worked on his first choreography, re-working Act III of La Bayadère. Such as Nureyev had learned and danced it with the Kirov, the choreography of the Kingdom of the Shades was inherited from Marius Petipa and the ensembles and ballerinas’ variations were faithfully reproduced. However, solos danced by the male character (Solor) were introduced by the virtuoso dance Vakhtang Tchaboukani in 1941. Nureyev also integrated Tchaboukani’s version, adding – as was his custom – his own personal touches. - in the Adagio where Nikiya comes on stage with a long veil held by Solor, Nureyev also had Solor dancing to mirror Nikiya ; - before the three Shades, he added a solo for Solor: the variation (with the fouetté-attitude en l’air turns) that Tchaboukiani had choreographed for Act II in Gamzatti and Solor’s betrothal - Nureyev switched the 3rd and 2nd Shades’ solos (placing the fast « avancés / relevés » variation in second position) ; - and in the coda, Solor launches into a manege of double assemblé turns. J.L.B.
« These slight alterations contribute to producing more dancing and they add brio to the male role, but Nureyev deserves high praise for the care he took in passing on the exact style to each dancer », wrote John Percival in the Times and Clive Barnes added in « Dance & Dancers », « Only two years after his « leap ino the West », Nureyev is already stimulating the Royal Ballet, he is helping all the dancers progress and he inspires our prima ballerina assoluta – Margot Fonteyn – who has a complete mastery of her technique that she had not yet revealed ; he has encouraged a new spirit of competition among the soloists. With this Act III of La Bayadère, Nureyev offers us a little-known ballet that is well worth discovering, a major classic to cherish and – just as important – he has taught us how to dance it. »
The different versions of La Bayadère - The Shadow Scene Versions by Rudolf Nureyev:
1963 - “The Shadows Scene” Royal Ballet in London First night was the 27th November 1963 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Costumes by Philip Prowse with Margot Fonteyn (Nikiya), Rudolf Nureyev (Solor) and Merle Park, Lynn Seymour, Monica Mason (the three Shadows).
1974 - “Scène des Ombres” Paris Opera Ballet First night was the 3rd October 1974 at the Palais Garnier Costumes by Martin Kamer With Noëlla Pontois (Nikiya), Rudolf Nureyev (Solor) and Claire Motte, Wilfride Piollet, Ghilaisne Thesmar (the three Shadows). This production was performed again in April 1975 with Noëlla Pontois, alternating with Florence Clerc, and Dominique Khalfourni in the role of Nikiya, and Jean-Pierre Franchetti, alternating with Patrick Dupond, and Patrice Bart in the role of Solor. NB: Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhaïl Baryschnikov were guest artists for the performances on the 22nd and 24th April.
Learn more Rudolf Nureyev joined the Kirov Ballet in 1958 after spending only two years at the Vaganova School and he was given the role of Solor in the Kingdom of the Shades in 1959. He partnered Olga Moisseieva and it was with this same ballerina that he appeared on the stage of the Palais Garnier in the same role, on May 19th 1961, during the Kirov Ballet’s Tour. That evening, the company’s artistic director, Konstantin Sergueev, asked Nureyev to add a solo before the three Shades, leaving him to choose a variation. And Nureyev danced… the Corsair variation. (see photo above). At subsequent performances, he danced Tchaboukiani’s variation.