An Interview with Sergei Vikharev

- Reconstructing La Bayadère

by Cassandra

July 2003


It was a pleasure to speak at length with former Kirov dancer and now ballet producer Sergei Vikharev about the new production of “ La Bayadère ” that the company is bringing to London at the end of this month. This version is based upon the notation made by Nikolai Sergeyev after the revival of the ballet in 1900, in what was to be the final version supervised by Marius Petipa. Vikharev has stripped away almost all the later choreographic additions to this ballet in an attempt to remain true to the original.

The major changes are as follows:

Act 1. Scene 1

The original Petipa choreography of the Dance of the Priestesses has been restored together with music throughout the act that was lost during the Soviet era.

Act 1. Scene 2

The pas de deux for Nikiya and the slave, an invention of 1954 has been dropped and the original mime between Nikiya and Gamzatti is restored.

Act 2. Scene 3

This scene contains some of the greatest changes in the entire ballet. The dance of the Golden Idol, an interpolation from 1948 has gone and the main pas d’action is now moved to Act 4. The principal addition is the Triumphal Procession in Honour of the Idol Badrinath for the corps de ballet and a previously unseen solo for Nikiya

Act 3. Scene 5

Petipa’s original coda for Nikiya is restored. However, some of the choreography by Vakhtang Chabukiani for Solor still remains.

Act 3. Scene 6

This scene of Solor’s awakening will be seen for the first time.

Act 4. Scene 7

The Wrath of the Gods scene is completely restored with a Dance of the Lotus Blossoms for twenty-four ballet students and the entrée, adagio and coda for Nikiya, Gamzatti, Solor and four Bayadères staged as in the original production.

I stress that these are the main differences in this version. However sequences of mime particularly and the restoration of the original music mean that we will notice changes throughout the ballet.

I asked Vikharev what had been the most difficult part of the reconstruction and he told me that there was a great deal of preparatory work, sifting through many documents. When he went to Harvard University in the USA (where the archive is kept) he found the records had blank spaces that had to be filled and stylistically merged into the reconstructed ballet. He added that it is acknowledged that in the Sergeyev records, parts of the ballet are missing e.g. the soloists’ variations. In the Soviet era every ballerina had her own variation and the choreography had to be made uniform filling the spaces not provided in the notation.

I then asked Vikharev what was the most interesting piece of choreography that he unearthed and he replied: For me of course first of all it’s Act IV which cannot be seen anywhere else in the world, the Lotus Dance has been restored, also choreography for Gamzatti, Solor, Nikiya and four female soloists. If we look back at the Chabukiani version that is shown all over the world, he didn’t include Act IV and placed the pas d’action in Act II. There were many musical losses and the idea of Nikiya interfering and pushing away her rival was lost.”

One of the problems for modern audiences is that there is now far greater emphasis on male dancing and the 19 th century idea of the ballerina reigning supreme at the expense of her partner now appears archaic. Vikharev agrees: “You cannot deprive the audience of male dancing. It’s not just the public we consider but cultural development: men danced in the 18 th century but not the 19 th century, then came back to dance in 20 th century. For instance, extra male dancing was included in “The Sleeping Beauty” - the Konstantine Sergeyev variation in the third act. When one starts reconstruction work on ballet this is the first problem that emerges: for the men to dance or not to dance.” For this reason the familiar Chabukiani solo in Act 3, The Kingdom of the Shades, has been retained.

During our conversation a videotape of the new production was playing in the background and I was very taken by how handsome many of the costumes looked, particularly the longer tutus for the Bayadères . Vikharev then showed me some staggeringly beautiful reproductions of the original costumes and told me that although some details of the costumes had vanished, a great attempt was made to try to bring back the style of the time and although it had been hoped to make the costumes in the same materials as the originals, sadly many fabrics are no longer available, so the closest equivalents were used.

Basically the sets haven’t changed with the exception of the Kingdom of the Shades and the new “Wrath of God” scene with the collapse of the temple and apotheosis where the Buddha appears.

I asked how the dancers liked the new production, to which Vikharev replied: “When I was dancing myself it was always interesting to develop something new, the dancers have to adapt to a new manner and even new scenery, after all when you move your sofa to another wall you have to adapt. Everyone worked very well.

The conversation then turned to how he became interested in production and research. “It was destiny! From the start I was interested in the old forms and very early on started giving classes as well as dancing and always wanted to teach or produce. I like to preserve what is inherited from the former generation, some are interested in new trends but I am more interested in what was achieved before. I’m no revolutionary more a conservative.” I replied: “A traditionalist!”

When asked if he had any similar projects in mind Vikharev told me that he was very interested in “The Daughter of the Pharaoh”, not withstanding the fact that Pierre Lacotte recently made a version for the Bolshoi, a version that he felt clashed with the Russian style. Vikharev would want to recreate the ballet using the notations from the Harvard archive though, should he get the opportunity to produce this ballet. Interestingly he added that enough notations exist to recreate the ballet “Esmeralda” also, but when I asked about “The Talisman”, he regretted that only scraps of the choreography remain, certainly not enough to base a production around. Although his approach is fundamentally different from that of Pierre Lacotte, Vikharev very much admires his “La Sylphide” and “Natalie” and greatly enjoyed dancing in “La Vivandiere”.

Talking to Sergei Vikharev was something of an education as he is clearly deeply committed to the idea of recreating the choreography of the past and has the drive and determination to achieve his aims. While we were talking, his mobile rang. His colleagues in Novosibirsk, Siberia, where he is now ballet master, ringing for his advice.

Much as I love the wonderful spectacle of “Daughter of the Pharaoh” by Lacotte, I believe there is plenty of room in the ballet world for another version and would love to see him revive it at some time. It would be a great acquisition for the Royal Ballet for instance and Mr Vikharev is young enough to continue plundering that fascinating Harvard archive for many years to come. I wish him well.




Edited by Stuart

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