Paris Opéra Ballet Nureyev Gala

January 20, 2003

Elisabeth Maurin and Alessio Carbone danced Romeo and Juliet at a Nureyev homagé. (Icare)

Paris Opéra Ballet Rudolf Nureyev Gala

Palais Garnier
Paris, France
January 20, 2003

Reviewed by Karyn Bauer Prévost

Rudolf Nureyev and the Paris Opéra Ballet: Theirs was a love story that blossomed throughout three decades. From the dancer’s defection from the Soviet Union in 1961 to his untimely death in 1993, Nureyev adopted Paris, settling into its sumptuous Palais Garnier, where he created a hand-tailored repertoire that remains the company’s poetic backbone.

“Rudolf Nureyev is forever present in the heart of those who are paying homage to him this evening,” announced the voice of étoile Laurent Hilaire, narrator of the short documentary, Rudolf Nureyev, that preceded this evening-long homage. “Not a day goes by,” adds POB director Hugues R. Gall, “that Nureyev’s name isn’t mentioned, his steps retraced, his words and his presence evoked, turning his absence into a constant presence.”

The evening opened with a series of excerpts from some of Nureyev’s most memorable creations, with former POB étoile Elisabeth Platel as Raymonda in a variation from Act III, and Clairemarie Osta and Laurent Hilaire in a touching and coquettish interpretation of The Nutcracker‘s Act II pas de deux. Elisabeth Maurin and her young partner, Alessio Carbone, were a magical Romeo and Juliet in the Act I balcony scene, while Monique Loudières took a short break from her role as director of the École Supérieure de Danse Cannes Rosella Hightower to embody a hypnotizing Cinderella alongside Jean-Guillaume Bart.

The evening also featured two works designed for Nureyev, including Maurice Béjart’s 1971 piece Chant du compagnon errant to music by Gustav Mahler, danced impeccably by Manuel Legris and Laurent Hilaire. Nicholas Le Riche and Sylvie Guillem then took to the stage to perform Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand, originally designed for Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in 1963 and unseen in Paris since their appearance here in 1966.

While Guillem has only rarely been seen in France since her rupture with the POB in 1989, her theatrically skilled and sinuous interpretation of the ailing Marguerite brought endless rounds of nearly riotous applause. Real-life couple Agnès Letestu and José Martinez blossomed in a jubilatory interpretation of the Act III pas de trois from Swan Lake alongside crowd-pleaser Wilfried Romoli, before handing over the stage to returning étoile Isabelle Guérin and Jean-Guillaume Bart, who closed the show in the ultimate scene of La Bayadère, Nureyev’s final creation for the POB. This ballet about memory and time evoked Nureyev’s voice, which seemed to echo in time with the raindrops falling on departing spectators?they left a Palais Garnier that seemed to glow with pride.