Ballet created for the Paris Opera Ballet and first performed on November 20, 1979 at the Palais des Sports, with Jean Guizerix and Wilfride Piollet in the principal roles
In the poem by Byron, Manfred seems predestined to destroy the ones he loves. In vain he sets out in search of Astarte, a paragon spirit who holds the power to allay the feelings of guilt that haunt him. In its choreographed version, Manfred gives free reign to the imagination around the theme adding other motifs borrowed from other poems by Byron. Rudolf Nureyev also drew inspiration from the libretto which Tchaikovsky based on the original work. The characters and events in the ballet also allude to the life of Byron himself. We discover the loves and hates of his youth, his untiring search for wisdom and peace through friendship, love and patriotic fervour.
“Rostropovich gave me the idea for this ballet one evening in Washington. You know that Berlioz had wanted to compose a vast symphony inspired by Byron’s poem. During a visit to Russia he offered the outline to Balakirev who in turn transmitted it to Tchaikovsky. Ten years later Tchaikovsky said, ‘And so I wrote my masterpiece.
[…]’ I preferred to limit myself to the psychological action, which involved a study of the personalities of Manfred and Byron himself. Through his hero, Byron magnifies the moral suffering brought on by remorse. Manfred becomes a demigod, a titanic figure. […] I am a classical choreographer who has studied and discovered the virtues of ‘modern dance’ thanks to Glen Tetley and Paul Taylor. I have thus learned to escape from the constraining rules and to construct choreographies with the intent to translate dramatic situations as deeply as possible.”
Nureyev was passionate about this subject, reading everything he could find about Byron’s life. He identified of course to a certain extent with the poet, accursed Romantic, stranger in the world. “My joys, my griefs, my passions, and my powers, made me a stranger” Following an accident, Nureyev conducted the rehearsals with one foot in a cast, and was not able to dance the premiere of Manfred. He was replaced by Jean Guizerix. On December 15, 1979, the choreographer finally danced this role based on a key character of the Romantic movement and who, in many ways resembled him like a brother. A reworked version, without décor, and with costumes by Nicholas Georgiadis, was performed in Zurich and revived at the Paris Opera in 1986. M.K. “In Byron’s poem, the hero, a superhuman character, is doomed by fate to destroy those he loves. In vain he undertakes to find Astarte, his ideal spirit who alone has the power to assuage the feeling of guilt with which he is obsessed.
The argument for Manfred, in the choreographic version, lets the imagination run free using this basic theme to which references borrowed from other autographical poems by Byron have been associated. Inspiration has also been taken from the libretto that Tchaikovsky produced from the original work. The characters and events forming the storyline come from the life of Byron himself. Therefore, we meet the loves and hates of his youth, his tireless quest for wisdom and peace, in friendship, in love, and in patriotic fervour.” Programme for Manfred, Palais des Sports, 1979