Teatro dell'Opera di Roma

Serata Fokine-Nijinsky: "Scheherazade," "Jeux," "Le Sacre du Printemps"

Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, Rome, Italy

October 6 and 11, 2002
By Patrizia Vallone

The Rome Opera Theater reopened after its summer break with Serata Fokine-Nijinsky, featuring Jeux, Le Sacre du Printemps and Scheherazade, for a total of seven shows with variously distributed casts and great success both at the box office and in the theater. I attended the October 6th and 11th performances.

This performance follows the Nijinsky Rediscovered show that two years ago presented three Nijinsky choreographies (Jeux, Le Sacre du Printemps and Till Eulenspiegel) as reconstructed by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer. This year, in paying homage to Nijinsky the dancer as well as to Nijinsky the choreographer, Till Eulenspiegel was replaced by a ballet that highlighted his interpretative abilities and – for his time – extraordinary technical prowess.

Scheherazade was created by Michel Fokine for Ida Rubinstein and Vaslav Nijinsky in 1910, and has been a great and never-ending success from the very beginning. It’s easy to imagine the amazement with which the Paris Opéra audience, used to chaste tutu-clad ballerinas, greeted the sensual atmosphere of Fokine’s Oriental-style dances and Léon Bakst’s brilliantly colored, pearl-and-jewel-laden costumes. What immediately comes to the fore in this ballet is the technical disparity between the role of the Slave, conceived for Nijinsky and therefore full of leaps and turns, and that of Zobeide, created for Rubinstein, who was graced with great beauty, personality and scenic presence, but was a mediocre dancer.

The version performed in Rome was presented by Andris Liepa (who had already recreated the ballet for the Kirov company). The production comes from the Riga Opera Theater, and Bakst’s décor and costumes, reconstructed by Anatoly and Anna Nezhny, are perfectly beautiful. The harem is mostly emerald green and cobalt blue, with a coral-red floor; Zobeide’s alcove is all silvery; soft cushions are strewn around at the edges of the stage.

The company as a whole danced quite well, particularly Alessia Barberini, Silvia Curti and Anjella Kouznetsova as the three odalisques. The principals were top-notch guests: Ilze Liepa, who is Andris’s sister and has been a character dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet, and Nikolai Tsiskaridze, a fiery rising star in the Bolshoi firmament of male dancers. Liepa is a fascinating Zobeide, cool and bold, well aware of her beauty and charm. Her soft, elongated body emanates sensuality and eroticism; her beautiful back is supple and strong, typical of the Russian school.

Tsiskaridze’s Golden Slave gives the impression of having been captured against his will, but it doesn’t take him long to let himself go. Tsiskaridze’s technique is absolutely spectacular. His grand jetés attain stratospheric heights; he touches the back of his head with his foot in his grand jeté attitude; his pirouettes à la seconde are fast as whiplashes and interspersed, in typical Russian style, with renversé turns. He performs all these feats with great naturalness, as if leaping and twirling were the easiest things in the world. No wonder the Roman audience immediately took Tsiskaridze into its heart, bestowing rapturous applause on him at every possible moment.

Jeux, first performed in Paris in 1913, with a score specially written by Debussy, was Nijinsky’s second choreography, following close on the heels of his L'Après-midi d’un Faune. This ballet is actually a reconstruction by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer (a couple in life as well as in art), who have devoted themselves for many years to recreating “lost” modern ballets. She took care of the choreographic side of the project, he recreated Léon Bakst’s sets and costumes. Three tennis players (two women and a man) meet casually in a park. The man flirts first with one, then with the other; then the ambiguous relationship built up among the three suddenly comes to an end and each goes his/her own way.

The female roles were danced by Carla Fracci and Alessia Barberini on both evenings, while the male one was performed by Nikolaj Hübbe on the 5th and Alessandro Molin on the 11th. A principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, Hübbe – who’s Danish and looks it – was brilliant, showing off his wonderful technique and very elevated grand jetés in a piece in which technique is not particularly evident. Molin, who had already danced the role with Fracci in Verona in 1996, gave life to an ambiguous and interesting character.

Le Sacre du Printemps was recreated by Hodson and Archer in 1987 for the Joffrey Ballet (which presented it at the Spoleto Festival in 1988). The original 1913 ballet was one of the greatest fiascos in the history of theater. The Parisian audience disliked Nijinsky’s choreography even more than Stravinsky’s score, and literally tore up the house. The ballet was pulled off the billboard after four performances and disappeared. We should be grateful, then, to Hodson and Archer for rescuing it from oblivion.

Le Sacre is anticlassicism personified. En dehors positions are cast aside, as are traditional ballet shoes: the dancers’ bodies are positioned en dedans, twisting inwardly. The steps are primitive, intentionally ungraceful, as befits the pagan rite represented, but the effect is to keep the audience riveted to their chairs till the end. Many other ballets have been set to Stravinsky’s music, but this one really seems to follow it note by note; the choreography, though much despised by the composer, stresses the savageness and power of the score.

The Rome Opera’s ballet company danced excellently. The exhausting role of the Chosen One – 12 minutes motionless in a very uncomfortable position, followed by an impressive number of leaps – was performed by Silvia Curti on the 6th and Gaia Straccamore on the 11th, both dancing with great élan and participation.

A special word of praise goes to the conductor Zoltan Pesko, who made it evident that even within the ballet genre there exist authentic musical masterpieces. Were theaters to entrust the conducting of ballet scores to really good or even great maestros, as is rarely the case, there is no question that the level of performances would benefit from every point of view.


Click here to visit the website of Corrado Falsini, official photographer of the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma.

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Edited by Malcolm.

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