Russian ballet masterpiece celebrates UNESCO’s 60 years

In celebration of UNESCO’s 60th birthday, the Royal Swedish Ballet will perform Leon Minkus’s classic «La Bayadere» at the Herod Atticus Theater tomorrow through Friday. The ballet has been choreographed by dancing icon Natalia Makarova, based on the choreography by Marius Petipa. The performances, which are supported by the Swedish Embassy, will feature the Greek Radio and TV (ERT) National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Benjamin Pope. The ballet, a dramatic love story, takes place in India at the time of the maharajahs, when Nikiya, a temple dancer, falls in love with Solor, a noble warrior. Although their relationship seems doomed, as it is opposed by the High Brahman and the powerful maharajah whose daughter is in love with Solor, true love triumphs in the end. As Makarova herself pointed out at yesterday’s press conference, it is a ballet that contains all the major elements: passion, love, jealousy, crime and punishment. The Royal Swedish Ballet production features principal dancers Mari Lindqvist, Anna Valev, Jan-Erik Wikstrom and Olof Westring. Founded in 1773, the company has a long history. At the press conference, its managing director, Anders Franzen, described it as the oldest and most important performing arts institution in Scandinavia, currently in its 235th season. He said it has become more difficult for the ballet to tour as much as it used to 30 to 40 years ago (since it currently stages about 240 to 250 shows in its home base of Stockholm), which makes the Athens performances even more special. «This is the most important Swedish event in Athens for several years,» said Swedish Ambassador Marten Grunditz. He expressed his hope that, following last year’s performances by the Cullberg Ballet, performances by Swedish dance companies in Athens could become an annual tradition. «I had to do a lot of research to revise Petipa’s version and I used my imagination too,» said Makarova, talking about the work she did on «La Bayadere.» In 1980, she became the first artist to stage the complete version of «La Bayadere» since 1919, something she accomplished with the American Ballet Theater. Until then, only shorter versions of the ballet had been performed, even in Russia. She added that she had to make some adjustments to meet the requirements to stage a production at the open-air Herod Atticus Theater and recalled an old performance of hers as Giselle at Athens’s ancient venue, where she had been spellbound by the atmosphere. The internationally renowned Makarova started her dancing career at the Kirov Ballet, where she earned a reputation before moving to the West. She has worked as a guest artist with some of the world’s greatest ballet companies and was the first Russian female dancer to be invited back to Russia to perform with the Kirov Ballet in 1989, following a guest appearance in «Swan Lake» with the Kirov in London the previous year. At the press conference, she described her return to Russia after her 18-year absence as a very dramatic experience and added that she was glad to have it captured on film, as she had been joined there by the BBC for a documentary. When asked about the future of ballet, Makarova appeared confident that as long as high quality and professionalism are maintained it will not die out, since, after all, it has already proved its timelessness. «Constant change is also important,» she said, explaining that every generation casts its own, refreshing look on the classic masterpieces. Herod Atticus Theater, Dionysiou Areopagitou, near the Acropolis metro station. Tickets can be purchased at the Hellenic Festival box office (39 Panepistimiou, tel 210.327.2000), at the theater box office and online at