La Bayadère, one of the key ballets in the classical repertoire, premiered in St Petersburg in 1877. Marius Petipa created a perfect harmony between mass scenes and protagonists, and it was the Kingdom of Shades scene that introduced the ballet to the West and added more lustre to Rudolf Nureyev flourishing career.
La Bayadère remained unknown until the ‘60s because of the Iron Curtain and lack of cultural exchange, but when the Kirov Ballet was on tour in Paris and London in 1961 its splendours were revealed when the audiences saw 32 bayadères slowly descend on a slope in a series of arabesques penchées.
When Frederick Ashton succeeded Dame Ninette de Valois as Director of the Royal Ballet in 1963, he asked Nureyev to work on his first choreography, restaging Act III of La Bayadère. Petipa’s choreography for the ensembles and ballerinas’ variations were reproduced as he had learnt them at the Kirov, however Solor’s variations (introduced by the virtuoso Vakhtang Tchaboukani in 1941) were included and reworked, something Nureyev continued to do throughout his career, making difficult male solos even more complex.
Nureyev was given the role of Solor in 1959, the year after he entered the Kirov company, and he partnered Olga Moisseieva, the same ballerina that he danced with on the stage of the Palais Garnier on 19 May 1961. On 16 June 1961, he would defect at Le Bourget Airport in Paris.
The Shadows Scene opened at the Royal Opera House on 27 November 1963 with Margot Fonteyn as Nikiya, Nureyev as Solor, and Merle Park, Lynn Seymour and Monica Mason as the three Shadows.
In 1974, he created his Scène des Ombres for the Paris Opera Ballet with Noëlla Pontois (Nikiya), and Claire Motte, Wilfride Piollet, and Ghislaine Thesmar (the three Shadows). It was performed again in 1975 with Noëlla Pontois, alternating with Florence Clerc, and Dominique Khalfourni in the role of Nikiya, and Clerc and Manuel Legris have now mounted Nureyev’s Bayadère at La Scala.
The last of his productions of the great classics, La Bayadère, has never been performed by any company other than the Paris Opera Ballet, for which it was created in 1992. Now, for the first time, it will be staged at La Scala, with a new production designed by Luisa Spinatelli. Nureyev performed and choreographed many times at La Scala and his first appearance at the theatre was in 1965, dancing in La Bayadère, among other roles.
La Scala has just announced its four casts:
The opening of the ballet season on 15 December 2021 sees Nicoletta Manni (Nikiya), Nicola Del Freo (Solor) and Virna Toppi (Gamzatti), who will also dance on 17 December, and for a preview performance for young people on 14 December. This cast will be filmed, and the ballet will be shown on Rai 5 television on 31 December at 21.15 CET, and on Medici Tv on Christmas Day, as well as in cinemas worldwide (dates to be announced).
On 21 December and on 31 December the cast includes Martina Arduino (Nikiya), Marco Agostino (Solor) and Alice Mariani (Gamzatti).
And on 5 and 8 January Svetlana Zakharova (Nikiya), Timofej Andrijashenko (Solor) and Maria Celeste Losa (Gamzatti).
Kevin Rhodes will conduct all the performances.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.