The Hungarian National Ballet is performing Russian classic, The Fountain of Tears (1934), in Budapest’s Erkel Theatre through 27 February 2019. Also known as The Fountain of Bakhchisarai, this ballet packs longing, grief and jealousy into four acts split between Crimea and Poland. Grand group numbers and exciting fight scenes grace the stage, but the lead female dancers steal the show from beginning to tragic end.

Note: The Fountain of Tears took place in Erkel Teatre because the ornate Hungarian State Opera House is currently closed for renovations.

Photo credit: Attila Nagy

The Fountain of Tears Ballet

During the first two acts, choreographer Rostislav Zakharov introduces the audience to two very different societies. Following a quick preview of long-faced Giray Khan (Iurii Kekalo) at his fountain in Crimea, a merry flashback reveals enamored Maria (Tatiana Melnik) and her fiancé Waclav (Gergely Leblanc) in Poland.

Leblanc gestures lightly and dances gently to Melnik, perhaps to project a soft and romantic quality; but he looks most natural and really dazzles during his solo dancing. On the other hand, lyrical Melnik radiates energy in all directions as she fully stretches into arabesques and floats into big jumps.

A multitude of party-goers in gorgeous cream, mustard and burnt sienna costumes soon shuffle into the courtyard, their stately celebration not quite matching the brightness of the live music conducted by Yannis Pouspourikas. But they stride about with purpose and jump curtly – building the regal atmosphere until the skilled sword-dancing soloists emerge.

Photo credit: Attila Nagy

Theatrical staging highlights the dramatic Tatar invasion, as intruders slink across the set: ducking for cover in the courtyard and dashing across steps just outside the palace. The Tatars clash with the Polish, and the pile of bodies grows, as smoke fills the palace and vibrant orange silks flicker like ravenous flames.  

Although Waclav dispatches a few warriors, Khan stabs him with a knife concealed in his long, gold cloak, before kidnapping a heartbroken Maria.

Interestingly, Akram Khan’s Until the Lions is based on the ancient Indian Mahabharata story
– and it also involves the kidnapping of a woman, whom is wanted as a bride.

Photo credit: Attila Nagy

Back at the palace in Crimea, all prepare for the Khan’s return. At the top of the female pecking order, first wife Zarema (Diana Kosyreva) languorously preens herself and admires her reflection in a mirror. She dances sinuously, flinging herself into lofty leaps as her feet nearly reach her head.

Zarema’s confidence wavers when the Khan shows no interest in her, but she doggedly continues to invite his attention. The first wife’s fall from favor entices another woman in the harem challenge her status as she dances an Indian-inspired number with bracelets of bell jangling on her wrists.

Dejected, Zarema reaches out to the Khan, while he fruitlessly reaches for Maria in one of the show’s most beautiful moments.

Photo credit: Attila Nagy

Later on, when the Khan visits Maria in her room, a strange pas de deux unfolds. The Khan attempts to charm her, nevermind that he kidnapped her and killed her fiancé, and she eludes his advances. Although occasionally, he lifts her, as she hangs her head down, as if she wants to melt into the floor.

In the dramatic tale, the Khan loses both Maria and his first wife Zarema, one by murder and the other by execution. The Fountain of Tears perfectly illustrates Aesop’s Fable, The Dog and Its Reflection.

A dog carries a bone in his mouth across a bridge. When he sees his reflection (and the reflection of the bone on the water), he opens his mouth to grab the ‘second’ bone. The bone in the greedy dog’s mouth drops into the water, leaving him with nothing.

– Aesop’s Fable: ‘The Dog and Its Reflection”

Heart heavy with grief (or perhaps, just self-pity), the Khan loses interest in his men and broods over the loss of Maria and Zarema. Although Kekalo gives a great performance, his selfish act as Giray Khan is so convincing that he receives less applause than the other lead Fountain of Bakhchisarai dancers during the curtain call.

Photo credit: Attila Nagy

Star Rating:


My Russian friend told me that viewing The Fountain of Bakhchisarai ballet outside of Russia and Eastern Europe is quite rare, and I had not heard of it before I saw it was playing in Budapest… Had you heard of The Fountain of Tears or seen the show before? If so, let us know where in the comments below!

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