It was in 1992 that former Bolshoi Ballet superstar Andris Liepa decided it was high time to return the fabled works of Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes back to Russia, where, due to the yoke of communism, its people had never had the opportunity of seeing them. Since then, he has been dedicated to researching, consulting and restoring, and under the umbrella of the Maris Liepa Charitable Foundation (created in memory of his famous father) and wealthy sponsors, has restored several of the old ballets to their former glory. This week he brought seven of them to London with a group of 170 dancers, musicians and technicians.

Tsiskaridze as Schéhérazade © M Logvinov
Tsiskaridze as Schéhérazade
© M Logvinov

The second of three programme offered scenarios from two different cultures—a fabulous eastern setting for Scheherazade with its tale of high jinks in a harem, and the land of Georgia in Thamar. This ballet is based on the poem by Mikhail Lermontov and recounts the legend of the seductive Georgian queen who ruled in the late 1100s. A passing traveller is brought to her wrapped in a carpet. She has a night of passion with him, then, like other interlopers, sees him killed and tossed from the parapet into the river Terek. This version of the 1912 ballet was re-choreographed by Lithuanian Jurijus Smoriginas and has scenes of billowing waves where corpses of past lovers lie, rising up under the silk like waves; of the inner confines of the castle where dancers from the Kremlin Theatre Ballet showed off many beautiful national costumes in near-traditional dances. However, the ballet is really a vehicle for the talents of Mariinsky Ballet principal, Irma Nioradze as the alluring Queen. Being Georgian, Nioradze accurately and beautifully demonstrated the subtle, gentle wrist movements and upper body action of Georgian national dance. However, despite her fine technique, the rest of the choreography proved repetitive with hip wiggles, high kicks and scissor leaps, and she lacked the acting conviction to show the role’s cruel nature. (Tamara Karsavina, the original Queen was hailed for her voluptuous performance.) Ilya Kusnetsov as the Traveller had little opportunity other than a few high jumps around the stage to show off his dance abilities.

Historically, Thamar was interesting to see but choreographically and dramatically it was not on a par with the other reproductions on the tour such as Scheherazade, a much-loved ballet with a beautiful score by Rimsky-Korsakov, (well played by Saint Petersburg Academic Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Alexander Titov.) Once again, as the curtain lifted, there was applause for the sumptuous sets and opulently decorated costumes. There in the harem, Zobeide danced by Ilze Liepa is seen in shimmering silver sequined cloak, lovingly entwined with her Sultan. However, on his departure she joins the harem women into hoodwinking the Chief Eunuch (alas, too young and not convincing) to let out the imprisoned slaves who are more than eager to cavort with the sexy women. The Golden Slave bursts forth, speeding around the stage in stretched jetes before succumbing to Zobeide’s charms. The orgy begins and is in full swing when the Sultan returns and everyone gets killed. The charismatic Nikolai Tsiskaridze took the role of the Golden Slave created by the legendary Vaslav Nijinsky, playing to the audience as much as to Zobeide, and, as the temperature rose in the harem, he turned up the heat even more with some astounding fast turns.