The 53-year-old piece has been revived by its author, 87-year-old choreographer Yuri Grigorovich. A ballet legend, Grigorovich ruled the Bolshoi ballet for three decades until 1995 and regularly returns to adapt his works for new casts.
The piece is symbolic for the Bolshoi and Russian history as it brings together several nationalities from former Soviet Union in an indirect declaration of the unity of the people. Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet's story of Queen Mekhmene Banu, who sacrifices her beauty for her sister and then suffers, unable to attract the man she and her sister both love, was set to music by Azeri composer Arif Melikov, while Georgian stage designer Simon Virsaladze created the set design. All worked closely with the Russian choreographer, drawn by the Eastern theme at the time.
Today, the ballet aims to remind the audience of the heritage of both the country and one of its greatest cultural assets, ballet, the Bolshoi's director Vladimir Urin told reporters at the rehearsal.
"One of the tasks for this ballet was to keep the best of the classical heritage that was created within these walls. I see it as one of the most interesting ballets by Yuri Grigorovich. The ballet that was definitive for the Soviet ballet and Russia's ballet today," Urin said.
The Bolshoi first staged A Legend of Love in 1965, three years after its premiere at St Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre, and is now performed by the fourth generation of dancers.
"Just as life changes, so does the ballet, the actors. The performers we have now are completely new… The relation to everything changes, my attitude to myself changes," Grigorovich told journalists before the dress rehearsal on Tuesday.
And although some of the critics who had seen the previous versions of the ballet said not all the dancers grasped the feel for the story this time, the choreographer was left content, saying the young dancers presented love the way they understood it.
"I believe they understand [the message of the ballet]. What is so enigmatic there? It is as ambiguous as love is. It is both clear and unclear; it is the love that appears at different stages in life. It is the same love theme as Romeo and Juliette, Layla and Majnun, it is a theme that has always been alive and will continue to live throughout human existence," said Grigorovich, who has staged the work at least nine times in several cities.
World renowned ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, now 88, was the first to portray Mekhmene. Half a century later, her legacy continues in the famous arms and legs of Bolshoi's prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova.
"This ballet was created a long time ago, and our teachers have danced it. It has played for many years, and all the performances are slightly different. Today's version will look modern and will add to the repertoire of the Bolshoi. It will be beautiful, contemporary and new," Zakharova said.
"I have to suffer throughout the whole ballet, there will not be a single smile on my face. This is a very powerful part for me," she added.
Zakharova's sharp postures and abundant Grand Jetes, her pas de deux with Denis Rodkin, laiden with complex lifts bordering on gymnastics combine well with colorful decorations and musical accents and contrast with the corps de ballet's almost constant symmetrical positioning on stage and their amplified yet fluid gestures, all characteristic of Grigorovich's choreography.
The ballet will play on October 23-26, and will be broadcast in cinemas globally on the last night, as the theater aims to adopt the Metropolitan Opera's system of airing first night premieres on the wide screen.