Rudolf Nureyev’s Last Ballet

On October 8, 1992, (almost) 30 years ago, the world said goodbye to the genius of Rudolf Nureyev, with the last work he choreographed for the Opéra de Paris: La Bayadère.

The ballet, which in 2022 turned 145 (in January), is one of the most beautiful productions created by Marius Petipa. There are many behind-the-scenes stories that yield many posts, like the one I did in 2021.

La Bayadère brings together an exotic setting, a love story, an exciting melody, and a “white act”, so perfect in the classical universe.

For Nureyev, who began work on the project in 1991, it was a special work. He danced it in Russia when he was still young and it was with the “Act of Shadows” that, in 1963, he made history dancing with Margot Fonteyn. Even though Natalia Makarova did the complete montage in 1980, he wanted to do his own. With his health increasingly fragile, he had to race against time.

With no budget limitations, the French version is the most luxurious in recent years. Nureyev enlisted Italian opera designer Ezio Frigerio to create the sets and opera designer Franca Squarciapino to design the costumes. Inspired by the Taj Mahal and the architecture of the Ottoman Empire, the couple also tried to stay true to Petipa’s original vision, where the clothes reflected ancient Persian and Indian paintings, with elaborate headdresses and hats, brightly colored fabrics, and traditional Indian attire. The result is incredible.

The original 1992 cast, chosen by the Russian dancer, included Isabelle Guérin as Nikiya, Laurent Hilaire as Solor, and Élisabeth Platel as Gamzatti. For the dancers, the emotional music and story were all the more meaningful as Nureyev, who could no longer walk, was sitting in a chair backstage, following each gesture. He stood up briefly to receive the barrage of applause. Just three months after the premiere, he died as a result of AIDS.

In 1994, the original cast recorded the complete production, in memory of the dancing genius.

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