Elephants and Ballet Are Compatible!
It is not difficult to guess that the reference above is to L. Minkus’ bright and spectacular ballet “La Bayadere”, which will be the final premiere of the year for the Astana Opera. The magnificent sets and costumes, the refined props reflect all colors of mysterious India, its exotic flavor. The wait for the performance is not long – the premiere will take place on December 25 and 26.
How this grand production with all its components is being created, we learned on a trip around the opera house:
The beauty of the production is incomparable to what has been done to date. The fact that the legendary Ezio Frigerio is responsible for the scenography ensures it. Many world theatres are vying for collaboration with the 86-year-old award-winning set designer. His exquisite sketches were transferred to the Astana Opera in advance for the construction of sets. The head of the artistic and staging works Victor Carare said that the production is being created in conjunction with the Italian team.
– We have productions where the sets are fully manufactured in our country, but there are also cases like “La Bayadere”, requiring the use of technology to which we only aspire.
There are many reasons for the audience to be surprised: mobile columns 11 meters tall that rotate around its axis and move in a straight course; magically, the entire stage, together with the sets, in a single moment becomes warm yellow instead of rich blue… In the first act, the beautiful image of the jungle is presented, and, to the amazement of the viewers, a mechanical snake will dance to a pipe. The last scene, “The Kingdom of the Shades”, where, thanks to video projections and unique scenery, 32 shadow ballerinas will appear from the cliff, is particularly fascinating. Furthermore, this is far from all…
The main materials for the sets are the lightweight, durable aluminum and fiberglass, which, with skillful use and hard work, create incredibly beautiful forms.
Woodcarvers, referring to the drafts of colleagues from the neighboring shop, create wonderful furniture, similar to the pieces in museums and royal palaces. For example, the throne. The masters explain that if we take only wood as a basis, it will be a very heavy, so they used PVC, polystyrene, fiberglass. The result is realistic and lightweight, just what is necessary in a theatre. Such product is durable; it cannot be affected by moisture and dry air.
A model of a life-size elephant impressed us as soon as we opened the door of the shop
Then there was a tiger, snakes, parrots…
This is not yet a bright bird of paradise, but soon, thanks to the fine work of prop masters, each feather will be attached in its place, and this exotic miracle will be shown off on a dancer’s shoulder in the production.
Prop decorator Anastasia Son is working on the creation of 11 finely ornamented pitchers. She says that she is working strictly by the sketches and, fascinated by the Indian theme, is trying to expand her knowledge: she is studying books and paintings. When you understand the meaning of these ornaments, work becomes meaningful rather than mechanical. To our naive question, whether it is possible to use the pitchers made for a variety of previous productions (for example “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai”), prop masters respond that every culture has its own history, its own designs and forms. For example, in this production, the jars have streamlined form. Some pitchers are made specifically to be worn on the heads of the ballet dancers.
Prop masters are preparing swords, sabers, cups, chessboard, chess pieces and fan-shaped cymes. Carved base for a mirror is pasted with papier-mâché and decorated with moldings. In addition, here is the famous drum which the artists will throw a few meters upward.
The lightweight, durable drum is made of PVC, foam and lined with fabrics. The painted beds will soon have blankets and pillows.
Italian costume designer, famed Franca Squarciapino is responsible for the artists’ attire. Each costume is a work of art. Decorated with natural stones, golden trim, hand embroidery, they convey the splendor and luxury of an Eastern palace. The opera house specialists have sewn one hundred and thirty-three costumes for numerous characters of the ballet; eighty-four were produced in Italy, where the fabrics were purchased. The other part of the materials came from Dubai: manufacturers from India transported them there by barge. Fabrics made in this country were required to convey historical belonging to the era accurately. Franca herself and her husband Ezio Frigerio traveled in India for a long time. They say that the Eastern theme is close to them; the couple has fond memories of living in Turkey for many years.
“I love all my costumes equally and approach each one from Solor to Rajah’s carriers individually. I used the entire color palette – cold colors, warm colors and all their shades and tints. In this production you can really use your imagination,” says Franca Squarciapino
The designer has created the costumes for “La Bayadere” for the first time in the year 1994, for the Opéra National de Paris, France. Incidentally, Altynai Asylmuratova, who is staging this production, has performed Nikiya at that time. By the choreographer’s request the lightweight fabrics, such as silk, chiffon and others, will be used for the costumes.
Franca Squarciapino says that it is very difficult to create costumes in two different countries, but her assistant Assel Dosmuratova, who is in online contact with his mentor every day, is working in Kazakhstan. Assel said that due to the large number of costumes, their manufacturing has been started here earlier than in Italy. The process of creating the tutus, of which there are more than 50, is particularly difficult. Lightweight Italian netting, pale mint in color, and frames for the tutus were brought to Kazakhstan, and the patternmakers and seamstresses have completed the work.
Preparing the Talents
While the sets and costumes are preparing, we offer to take a look at the most important place – the rehearsal studio.
The entire ballet company is involved in the production. According to the experts, “La Bayadere” is a real triumph of the corps de ballet: large number of well-trained dancers is necessary for the success. A famous scene “The Kingdom of the Shades”, where 32 ballerinas simultaneously repeat the dance movements for fifteen minutes, is a memorable sight! This scene from the last act attracts fine art lovers all over the world.
People’s Artist of Russia, choreographer Altynai Asylmuratova has cast the main parts.
“La Bayadere” is a special ballet for me. At one time, my teacher Olga Moiseyeva said that it was her favorite ballet and she worked hard with me on it, instilling a taste for “La Bayadere” in me. This ballet entered my blood. Now, in any state, whether you want to or not, you will do it right. “La Bayadere” is interesting because it contains two ballets in one, if we talk about the part of Nikiya. The first and second acts are more emotional, technically difficult, they require good acting skills, but the last act is the purest “tutu” classic. The ballet is huge and very difficult to prepare. Many mass dances – fours, threes and all kinds of acting parts. The story itself is impressive in depth and drama. In short, it will be a great entertaining production staged in accordance with good old traditions. I want everything in the Astana Opera to be on the level to which I am accustomed.”
“This ballet was born in St. Petersburg, and the succession of generations allows to convey it as close to the original as possible. In 1941, Vakhtang Chabukiani and Vladimir Ponomarev, who grew up on this ballet, created a new edition. The changes that they made were organic enough for the people in the West to think that this is Marius Petipa’s original source material. I danced many different editions, but this is the best one. I believe in the company, we are working very hard and want a good result.”
Three ballerinas – Madina Basbayeva, Aigerim Beketayeva and Nazerke Aimukhametova are preparing the part of Nikiya. It will be a debut for all of them, but each one has her own, unique take on it.
The leading soloist of ballet Madina Basbayeva, with her immaculate, perfect dancing style and precise musicality, said that it is very important to work through each move, step, position of the body, every detail down to facial expressions and glances.
“This is a dramatic ballet, we have to feel, live through and show betrayal, which is very difficult. The third act is the hardest; you can say that you pass the exam as a ballerina while dancing it.”
“Each day we learn something new. The role is close to me in that my character is young. We have to work a lot on emotions and acting material. Each act has its own strong points, for me this ballet is a new experience, giving the opportunity to discover different facets of my personality.”
The very young, but full of promise Nazerke Aimukhametova says that ballet is an art that requires an outside perspective. “We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to receive valuable knowledge from an outstanding choreographer Altynai Asylmuratova, her professional evaluation, observations help to polish the part, bring it to the perfect performing level.”
Two artists are working on the part of Gamzatti. The leading soloist Gaukhar Usina does not think that her heroine is a villainess.
“Gamzatti is a strong, noble, beautiful and rich girl. By circumstances, her beloved is already in love with another. She fought for her happiness and love, maybe not quite in a right way, but who does not make mistakes? I have already had an occasion to dance this role, but now I am working on it fundamentally, studying all the details. There is a mise en scene in the ballet in which you have to perform in such a way so that the audience could choose on whose side they are.”
This will be a debut for the leading soloist Anel Rustemova. The dancer said that she feels very comfortable in the role of the daughter of the Rajah, in whose veins flows the noble blood.
“There is a complicated pas de deux, it requires strength, and it is one of the most technically difficult moments in this ballet. The part is dominated by the technique of jumps, throws, spins; it requires strong back and legs, as there is a huge strain on the body. The versatility of acting is no less important for the character. At the beginning of the ballet, she is an imperious ruler, in the end – a suffering woman who begs for her own groom, Solor, to be given back to her.”
Tair Gatauov, Bakhtiyar Adamzhan, Yerkin Rakhmatullaev were selected for this role, the dancers are preparing it with the Honored Artist of Russia Konstantin Zaklinsky.
We would like to remind that the part of Solor was a favorite of Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993), that it was with this ballet his brilliant career in Paris has begun.
The leading soloist Tair Gatauov have danced this role before.
“I call the moments, when an artist gets a chance, fateful. It so happened that the main performer could not come to the performance, and I, without rehearsing, went onstage. I remember really liking the part at the time; I would like to note that dancing with two partners at once was very difficult. My hero, first and foremost, is a man, his nature is such that he could not resist wealth, status and beauty. Having committed treason in relation to Nikiya, he regrets it. Remorse overwhelms him, and Solor goes to the Kingdom of the Shades after his beloved.”
Brilliant ballet soloist Yerkin Rakhmatullaev considers the part complex, just like the Eastern theme.
“I would not have acted like my hero in real life: I think such things are unforgivable. All productions have their drama, their adventures. I believe that the stories that are accurately and fully told in the language of ballet in this particular choreographic canvas are quite realistic.”
Bakhtiyar Adamzhan says that he is working on the part every day.
“After performing the role of Spartacus it has become my dream to dance the part of Solor. In my opinion, this hero is a man of his time, when the rich could only marry rich. He was under a lot of pressure and lost his love. Perhaps he would have fought for it, if not for the fear. “La Bayadere” is very melodic performance musically; I think our viewers will appreciate it.”
The music in this ballet was not redrafted. The Music Director of the production Arman Urazgaliev noted that L. Minkus’ music does not have ‘dark places’, there is no mystery.
“La Bayadere” has specifically ballet-style music, very comfortable to dance to, like “music-hint” or “music-prompt”: if we hear loud chords, they have appropriate gestures that are clear to the artists. Of the many scores written by L. Minkus, “La Bayadere” and “Don Quixote” are the brightest. In this ballet, the composer revealed his lyrical talent, which is especially noticeable in the scene “The Kingdom of the Shades”.
Day by day, the intensive preparation brings the ballet company closer to the premiere of “La Bayadere”. This is one of the most famous and beautiful ballets in the world musical culture, valued no less highly than “The Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake”. The in-demand performance is not just a feature, but also the pride of the repertoire of any opera house.