1992 – La Bayadère

Music : Ludwig Minkus – Choreography : Ruldof Nureyev after Marius Petipa – Set : Ezio Frigerio

“… the premiere of La Bayadère was more than a ballet for Rudolf and everybody around.
This is the idea that I love about La Bayadère — that you have someone approaching death,
who is dying, and instead of his death, he gives us this wonderful ballet. “- Laurent Hilaire

A ballet dated 1877 handed down through tradition

The Grand ballet performed La Bayadère in 1877 at the Grand Theatre in Saint Petersburg and immediately became one of the greatest successes of the French chorographer, Marius Petipa – who lived in Russia – just after his production of Sleeping Beauty (1890) and Swan Lake (1895).
The action was enough to attract spectators with its exotic atmosphere, the mystery of India formed a backdrop to the impossible love between the sacred dancer Nikiya and Solor, the warrior.

This ballet had never been seen by the Western public until the Leningrad Kirov performed The Kingdom of the Shades for the first time in 1961, at the Palais Garnier in Paris, with Rudolf Nureyev – then aged 23 – who caused a real stir.

Up until 1961, when the Kirov danced The Kingdom of the Shades in Paris, this ballet was unknown.

Following this, it was only the « Shades » scene taken from Act III that was presented in Europe. Rudolf Nureyev first of all mounted it for the Royal Ballet in London in 1963 and – at the invitation of Rolf Liebermann – for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1974.

The version of La Bayadère which is still danced at the Kirov (now called the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg) has been handed down according to tradition and time has therefore added a few modifications, especially to the leading male role. It is based essentially on the choreography re-worked by Vakhtang Tchaoukiani and Vladimir Ponomarev in 1941.

la bayadere rudolf noureev

Rudolf Nureyev’s version created at the Paris Opera (1992)

After Natalia Makarova, who choreographed her own version (with additional music in the final act) for the American Ballet Theatre in New York in 1980, and Youri Grigorovich, who mounted a traditional Bayadère for the Bolshoi in Moscow in 1991, the production by Rudolf Nureyev – who nurtured a project to re-stage the original choreography (using Petipa’s notes and Minkus’ original music) – was the first three-act version of La Bayadère, danced in Paris.

On October 8th 1992 at the Palais Garnier, La Bayadère, a ballet in three acts by Rudolf Nureyev was created with the assistance of Ninel Kourgapkina, who was his partner at the Kirov, of Patrice Bart, the Ballet Master and Patricia Ruanne and Aleth Francillon.
In this version, Rudolf Nureyev returned to the Minkus’ original score and arrangement, enhanced by the odd linking measure composed by John Lanchbery. Since he could not create the fourth act (for technical reasons, but also because of his failing health) after Petipa (the temple collapsing, the anger of the gods following la Bayadère’s death) because Minkus’ original music and the choreography had been lost since 1919, Rudolf Nureyev ended his ballet with the « Shades » act (wholly by Petipa, with the exception of Solor’s entrance and variation).

The first two acts were entirely re-staged by Nureyev using the Kirov version as his reference ; and so we find the Fakirs’ dagger dance in Act I, the adagio (Nikiya and a slave) added to Act I by Konstantin Sergueyev in 1954 for Natalia Doudinskaya to music borrowed from La Esmeralda (Cesare Pugni), the Fans and the Parrot dance in Act II, the Little Negroes, the « Manou » dance, the Indian dance and Solor’s variation (II, N°s 13) and the Pas de Six brought back into the second act by Tchaboukiani (II, N°s 10-11-12), the bronze Idol’s variation from the second act choreographed by Nikolaï Zoubkovski in 1948 and Nikiya’s coda with the flower basket.

Nureyev’s production of La Bayadère thus forms a sort of synthesis of the transmission of the ballet through several generations ; Petipa’s original is gradually enriched by successive revisions and additions made by dancers and chorographers of the Kirov/Maryinsky, over more than a hundred years.

As was his custom, Nureyev also « signed » the ballet, by choreographing several scenes that were no more than pantomime, such as Solor smoking the narghile and dreaming in his room, summoning up the « vision » of the Shades in Act III (solo with cape). He also created dances for Solor’s friends (in Act I, at the Rajah’s palace), who had previously been reduced to « extras ». J.L.B.

La Bayadère was also the final task in a life totally devoted to the dance: Rudolf Nureyev – in spite of his illness – worked on staging this ballet and attended rehearsals until the opening night on October 8th 1992 at the Palais Garnier.

After the curtain calls congratulating the soloists, the corps de ballet and the conductor, the curtain rose once again. This time, Rudolf Nureyev was there, dressed up, with a red scarf over his shoulder, taking his bow between Isabelle Guérin and Laurent Hilaire, with Elisabeth Platel at his side. The public fell silent for a moment, hesitant when faced with this brave and illustrious man, thin but standing proud, defying his illness. The audience rose as one and burst into applause.
They understood that they were seeing him for the last time. A triumph riddled with emotion that paid homage, not only to a handsome performance, but also to the fate of a man who « went around and came around »… he had performed on this very same stage at the Palais Garnier in the « Shades » scene of La Bayadère and he was now leaving us with his own production of La Bayadère in three acts, as if it were his last will and testament left to the Paris Opera Ballet.

Following this, behind the closed curtains on the stage, in a private ceremony in the presence of the dancers, Jack Lang, the Minister of Culture, awarded Nureyev the « Commander of the Arts and Literature » medal (President Mitterrand had decorated him with the Legion of Honour in 1988). Nureyev remained seated in a high-backed armchair, with a brightly-coloured bonnet on his head, reminiscent in some ways of Molière as he continued – in spite of the sickness he felt overcoming him – to act the part. And – just as Jean-Baptiste Poquelin cried « juro » at the end of « The Hypochondriac » (what a cruel irony !), Nureyev could also have sworn to giving his life to the theatre, since life in the theatre is so much more intense than reality… « True life is when I am on the stage », he would say.
J.L.B. To complement Rudolf Nureyev’s Bayadère – which is currently performed exclusively by the Paris Opera Ballet – the sumptuous decor by Ezio Frigerio and the richly decorated costumes by Franca Squarciapino combined to evoke India as imagined by the « Orientalists » of the 19th century.

The creation by the Paris Opera Ballet took place on October 8th 1992, on the stage of the Palais Garnier.

Cast at the « Première »

Isabelle Guérin – Nikiya, La Bayadère
Laurent Hilaire – Solor
Elisabeth Platel – Gamzatti, the Rajah’s daughter
Jean-Marie Didière – the Rajah
Francis Malovik – the High Brahmin
Wilfried Romoli – the Bronze idol
Lionel Delanoë – the Fakir
Sandrine Marache –« Manou » dance
Nicolas Le Riche – the slave in the adagio with Nikiya in Act I 2nd scene.
Karin Averty, Clotilde Vayer, Fanny Gaïda – the 3 Shades.

The ballet was performed fifteen times between October 8th and 31st 1992.

La Bayadère was again produced in January 1993 and May 1994 at the Palais Garnier ; it was presented at the Opera Bastille in June/July 1994, December 1995/January 1996 and in December 1998/January 1999. The Opera Ballet also danced La Bayadère on tour in Barcelona, Washington and Athens (1993), New York (1996), Manchester (2000) and more recently in San Francisco and Los Angeles (April/May 2001). The most recent performances were in November – December 2001 and January 2002 at the Opera Bastille

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Nureyev had tried to persuade Dame Ninette de Valois to present the whole ballet at Covent Garden but this did not happen and when the Royal Ballet finally produced La Bayadère in three acts, it was in 1989 when they adopted the completely re-worked version by Natalia Makarova. Consequently, it was for the Paris Opera that Nureyev finally mounted « his » Bayadère.


In the early years of the twentieth century, the Stage Manager of the Maryinsky Theatre, Nicholas Sergueiev, « notated » Petipa’s ballet . When he went into exile, he entrusted the precious documents to the American University Library. The last Act of La Bayadère (celebrating the marriage of Solor and Gamzatti), was on the scale of a religious ceremony, with a « Lotus Flower dance » performed by children and a « Grand Pas » for Solor and Gamzatti, which was disturbed by Nikiya’s ghost. The wedding was cursed and was punished by the temple collapsing, burying the guests under a mountain of rubble. This grandiose effect required considerable machinery. Through a lack of technicians (the male staff at the Maryinsky had been mobilised by the war and the 1917 Revolution), the fourth act was abandoned when the ballet was performed again in 1919. It was never seen again and the Kirov Ballet – up until 2001 – performed a three-act version, ending with the « Shades » scene. Then in 2002, following the reconstitution of Sleeping Beauty after Petipa’s original dating back to 1890 which Sergei Vikharev – the dancer and choreographer trained at the Kirov/Maryinsky – completed in 1999 with the help of Pavel Guerchenzon (assistant to the current director of the Maryinsky Ballet), Vikharev succeeded in resuscitating the fourth act. The work of an archaeologist ! First of all, they went to study the choreographic notation of La Bayadère at the University of Harvard (Massachusetts, U.S.A.), which was transcribed using the Stepanov system during the performances given in St. Petersburg in 1900. Then, as they sifted through the Maryinsky’s musical archives, they discovered Minkus’ hand-written score, lying there in a sorry state, since it was written in 1876/1877 and had never been copied nor published and it had suffered many cuts and additions while Petipa was working on it.