LAST EDITED ON 03-Oct-99 AT 09:56 AM (GMT)
Taking one night off the American Ballet Theatre's season in Paris, I watched yet another performance of "Swan Lake" - the Paris Opera Ballet dancing at the Opera Bastille in Nureyev's 1984 production, led on 23 September by Elisabeth Maurin and Manuel Legris. This is the third production of "Swan Lake" that I have seen in the past 12 months, after the Kirov Ballet's Sergeyev production danced in Hong Kong last December, and Derek Deane's arena production for the English National Ballet which I saw in Hong Kong in May and again in London in June.
I had only seen this Nureyev production once before at Opera Bastille in December 1994 with the Kirov's Altynai Asylmuratova as a guest star partnered by Laurent Hilaire. As expected, Nureyev has beefed up the role of Prince Siegfried, who even has an extra solo full of jumps in the white Act 2 (before Odette's solo), in addition to his melancholy solo at the end of Act 1 which Nureyev choreographed in the 1960s and which was in the old Royal Ballet version prior to the present Dowell production. I have to say that whilst I have always liked the dreamy romantic solo Nureyev choreographed for Siegfried in Act 1, I find this Act 2 solo totally out of place in Act 2.
Also I have reservations about Nureyev's innovation of mirroring the double role of Odette/Odile with the dual role of the tutor Wolfgang and Rothbart danced by the same male dancer, which introduces a Freudian subtext. I found Rothabart's presence very obtrusive in the Black Swan pas de deux, as he has more partnering of Odile to do than in other productions. Strangely, I do not recall seeing a phantom of Odette appearing in the middle of the Black Swan pas de deux as in other versions.
Nevertheless, Nureyev retained Odette's mime passage early in Act 2 which is not in the Kirov production, and the sacrosanct Petipa/Ivanov choreography in this act. Nureyev completely rechoreographed the final Act 4, and his choreography here is quite interesting. The corps de ballet of swans is divided into quartets, each alternating and gradually moving to the right side of the stage like a wave in a memorable passage. And the final pas de deux for Odette and Siegfried, before Rothbart snatches Odette away and ascends up the night sky, is quite moving.
In the black act, the dancers wear proper character shoes for the national dances, instead of dancing en pointe like in some productions. However Nureyev's choreography is not superior to the authentic choreography in the Kirov production. The Mazurka and Czardas as danced by the Kirov Ballet (the only company in the world which has the right character dancers to do them justice) really become a wonder of the world - the exhilaration is unforgettable.
My favourite of Nureyev's own choreography in this ballet is in Act 1. His eye-filling waltz was gorgeously danced in this performance. And Nureyev's Polonaise is danced only by male dancers, who are divided into four quartets. There is a noble harmony in this Polonaise which bespeaks of gentility and graciousness.
In the leading roles that night were Elisabeth Maurin (whom I first saw in 1988 as a guest with the Royal Ballet dancing Aurora) and Manuel Legris. Legris was a fine Siegfried. But I have seen him in an even more superior technical form as Basilio in Nureyev's "Don Quixote" last December, and as the soloist in Jerome Robbins' "A Suite of Dances" in April.
Maurin, who has such beautiful feet en pointe, was a moving Odette. And in Odette's solo, her weighty ronds de jambe en l'air in the beginning effectively conveyed Odette's desperation. Maurin's Odile was competent.
Laurent Novis (who has guested with the English National Ballet) was the tutor Wolfgang/Rothbart. In the Act 1 pas de trois, Benjamin Pech dazzled with his double tours en l'air in both directions, each of which ending in a perfect fifth position. Clairemarie Osta and Delphine Moussin were Pech's partners. And the pas de quatre of the four cygnets was grandly danced; the four cygnets really covered a lot of ground with their pas de chats. The corps de ballet of swans was magnificent, second only to the incomparable corps of the Kirov Ballet.
The sumptuous Gothic interior of the Palace, which opens out onto the lake in the white acts, was designed by Ezio Frigerio. The tasteful costumes were designed by Franca Squarciapino. It was this same team who designed "La Bayadere", Nureyev's last production for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1992. Vello Pahn was an excellent conductor for this performance.