Nureyev dancing the role of Manfred

Song of a wayfarer Bejart

Music : Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovski – Choreography : Rudolf Noureev – Photo Jean Guizerix

“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

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