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#Throwback Thursday: Le Talisman

This week's #ThrowbackThursday is on Marius Petipa's ballet Le Talisman.

Chinara Alizade and Alexander Smoliyaninov in 'The Talisman pas de deux'

The four act ballet opens with a prologue. The gods are in council, and Amravati, Queen of the Heavens, is in despair. Her daughter, Niriti, must go down to earth to prove that she can resist the temptation of mortal love. If she fails this test, she will lose her immortality. Vayou, god of the wind, is to accompany her to earth. Amravati gives Vayou her sceptre, with which he can command the spirits and the elements. To Niriti she gives a star talisman, warning her not to lose it; it may not be returned to her except by a mortal's free will.

Anastasia Stashkevich, 'The Talisman pas de deux', 2013

Act I begins in the hut of Kadoor, an old weaver. Nal is busily working at his loom, so he can meet his betrothed, Nirilya. She appears, but refuses to enter the hut; annoyed, Nal returns to work. Nirilya creeps up on him and covers his eyes with her hands. At this moment, they are discovered by Kadoor and several villagers. Kadoor tells them there is no need to be embarrassed for this, since they will be married the next day. The villagers have come to wish them well, and they begin to dance. Noureddin, the young Maharajah of Lehore, appears and requests shelter for the night. He begs the people to continue dancing, but soon becomes tired and retires for the night. Everyone leaves as darkness falls. Vayou and Niriti appear in the resulting emptiness. Noureddin sees Niriti and tries to kiss her, but Vayou forces him back with the staff after Niriti calls for help. Vayou and Niriti disappear, but Niriti's talisman falls to the ground; Noureddin finds it and becomes determined to find her. A procession passes by; it is King Akdar and his daughter, Princess Damayanti. She is Noureddin's betrothed, and King Akdar requests that he accompany them to his palace. As soon as they have gone, Vayou and Niriti enter, frantically searching for the talisman.

Vaslav Nijinsky as Vayou in Legat's 1910 revival

At King Akdar's palace in Act II, preparations are being made for the wedding of Noureddin and Damayanti. The celebrations begin with dancing, and though Noureddin dances with Damayanti, he is haunted by visions of Niriti. When everyone leaves for the feast, Noureddin lingers in the garden, where he encounters Niriti in the guise of the goddess of flowers. Roses in human form appear, attempting to bewitch Noureddin into giving back the talisman; he refuses. Niriti herself tries several times to get the talisman back, to no avail. Finally, she and her retinue vanish. King Akdar calls for Noureddin, since it is time for the wedding ceremony. Noureddin announces that he loves another and cannot marry Damayanti, who faints. For a moment, it seems as though fighting will break out, but Vayou separates the two sides so that Noureddin might return the talisman. Meanwhile, Niriti appears unseen in a fountain, and blows Noureddin a kiss.

Act III begins in a bazaar, through which Noureddin travels on his way back to Lehore. Vayou and Niriti enter, disguised as Brahim and his slave. Vayou presents Niriti to the crowd wrapped in a veil, as they plan to steal back the talisman. However, Noureddin recognises Niriti, causing her to flee. Vayou reprimands Noureddin for annoying her; Noureddin asks if he might buy Niriti, and Vayou agrees, but says he will only accept the talisman as payment. Noureddin refuses. Now suspicious that the talisman is more than it seems, Noureddin gets Vayou drunk; intoxicated, Vayou tells Noureddin the truth of Niriti's identity and the talisman. Vayou, to emphasise his words, strikes the table with his staff, which snaps. He is helpless as Noureddin orders his bodyguard to seize Niriti. Niriti begs Noureddin to return her talisman so that she might return to heaven and her mother; Noureddin refuses, saying that he loves her too much. He asks her to stay on earth and marry him; she refuses. Again he asks, again she refuses. When he asks a third time, Niriti takes a dagger from his belt and threatens to kill herself. Now angry, Noureddin throws the talisman at her feet. About to ascend to heaven, Niriti turns to bid farewell to Noureddin and changes her mind. She throws the talisman away. It ascends to heaven alone, where Amravati and the other gods await its return.

Mathilde Kschessinskaya as Niriti for the 'Grand pas de fleurs' of Act II, Legat's revival, 1910

Le Talisman was choreographed by Marius Petipa to music by Riccardo Drigo. Petipa also created the libretto with Konstantin Augustovich Tarnovsky. It premiered on 6 February 1889 at the Mariinsky Imperial Theatre. The original cast included Elena Cornabla as Niriti, Pavel Gerdt as Noureddin, Enrico Cecchetti as Vayou, Anna Johansson as Amravati, Alfred Bekefi as Nal, and Marie Petipa as Nirilya. The original production was somewhat lacklustre, though Drigo's score caused a sensation. The setting of ancient India failed to inspire the audience and the ballet was considered mediocre until Petipa's revival. This revised production premiered on 4 November 1895, with Pierina Legnani as Niriti and Alexander Gorsky as Vayou, while Pavel Gerdt reprised his role as Noureddin. The revival was a resounding success, and was even more popular than Petipa's extremely successful revival of Swan Lake, which had premiered earlier that same year.

Marius Petipa

In 1909, Nikolai Legat staged his own revival as part of the celebrations of the thirteenth wedding anniversary of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra. They attended the premiere on 12 December 1909 with the entire Imperial family, and Drigo refurbished his score for the occasion. This very successful production starred Olga Preobrajenska as Niriti, Nikolai Legat as Nouridden, and Vaslav Nijinsky as Vayou, while Pavel Gerdt remained in the production as King Akdar. In 1908 there had been a revival by Luigi Tornelli for La Scala, but this was brief, and after the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, Le Talisman, like so many other ballets, was lost. In 1997, Paul Chalmers staged a revival based on notations for the Arena Ballet (Balletto del Teatro Filarmonico) of Padua, Italy. It premiered on 16 March, 1997, to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Drigo's birth, and starred Carla Fracci as Niriti, Alessandro Molin as Vayou, and Stephane Fournial as Nouridden. The production is no longer danced.

Mathilde Kschessinskaya, c. 1910

What little survived of Le Talisman became known as The Talisman pas de deux. In 1955, Pyotr Gusev of the Mariinsky Ballet created the pas de deux, which is now performed by various companies and at various competitions. However, the male variation is not in fact from Le Talisman at all, but from another Petipa ballet The Pharaoh's Daughter. The pas de deux is now such a tradition that this remains unchanged.

Eugenia Obraztsova in 'The Talisman pas de deux'

Unfortunately, though I do have the 1997 Arena Ballet production, it is no longer on YouTube and so I cannot share it. Instead, here is The Talisman pas de deux as danced at the Kremlin Gala in 2016, with Iana Salenko and Ivan Vasiliev:

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

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