Music : Ludwig Minkus – Choreography : Ruldof Nureyev after Marius Petipa
Solor in « La Bayadère » : a myth, a legend, two dates that marked their time!
It was the first role danced by Rudolf Nureyev in Paris, when he made his French début with the Kirov Ballet on Friday May 19th 1961 at the Palais Garnier. At that time, “La Bayadère” was only performed in the U.S.S.R. and only the third act, with the “Shades” (which Nureyev considered to be Petipa’s absolute masterpiece), was performed in Paris.
The unforgettable vision of this young man in a flimsy blue Indian tunic – designed by himself – with a white belt round his waist and his forehead adorned with a turban bearing an egret; a superb feline opposite his partner Olga Moissieva in the scarf pas de deux, the bird-man soaring through his variation in the second act, which was included in the “Shades” as an exception for Nureyev that evening.
Paris immediately fell in love with this young god. It was also Nureyev who mounted this act in the West, first for the Royal Ballet in 1963, then for the Paris Opera Ballet in October 1974. He danced the role of Solor himself, partnering Noella Pontois.
Nureyev enjoyed telling his friends about the circumstances of his début in “La Bayadère” at the Kirov in 1959:
“It was Natalia Dudinskaya – twenty years older than me – who demanded that her husband, Constantin Sergueyev, the Ballet Director, allow me to dance this role for the first time with her. On the morning of the performance, October 23rd, she phoned to tell me that she had cut her finger while she was peeling vegetables and that the performance that evening would have to be cancelled. “But that’s not possible” I shouted, desperate, “My parents have travelled all the way from Oufa specially to see me dance! Let me dance with another partner” – “No, you can’t because you’ve rehearsed the part with me and I don’t want you to dance it with anyone else”. I moaned for so long and insisted so much that in the end Dudinskaya – who was very fond of me – gave in and it was Olga Moissieva who agreed to dance the three acts of “La Bayadère” that very evening, without rehearsing. I was such a success that several people came to congratulate my parents for having such a talented son. For the first time ever, my father showed he was proud of me!”
LA BAYADERE was the last, major three-act ballet that Rudolf choreographed for the Paris Opera in Ezio Frigerio’s famous production. It was on the occasion of this creation on October 8th 1992, with Isabelle Guérin, Elisabeth Platel and Laurent Hilaire, that Rudolf Nureyev – already seriously weakened by his illness – made his last appearance in public, receiving a thundering standing ovation from a deeply moved audience. That evening, Paris paid a worthy tribute to a great artiste and choreographer and discovered – overwhelmed – a masterpiece in the repertoire that was completely unknown in France until then.