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Kirov Ballet

'La Bayadère'

by Cassandra

August 2, 2003 (matinee) -- Covent Garden, London

I approached the new ‘old’ production of “La Bayadère” with some trepidation, as I had not been a fan of the new ‘old’ “Sleeping Beauty.” The pared down choreography and the garish costumes of “Beauty” simply didn’t work for me and I feared my reaction to “La Bayadère” would be similar. It wasn’t: I found this reconstructed work an absolute gem. Before I go any further I have to mention the fact that not everyone I spoke to appeared to agree with me -- two people disliked it quite vehemently, a few were undecided, saying they missed certain aspects of the previous production, but most were enthusiastic, finding this production far more attractive than anything they had seen before.

For me the strengths of the production are threefold: the reinstatement of original chorography, some of it of great beauty, the far more logical sequence of the drama and the more attractive costumes (I found the previous Kirov costumes mostly rather ugly). The only weakness for me was the reduction in the male dancing.

The first act costumes for the bayaderes were a danceable approximation of Indian saris, far more appropriate and far more becoming to the dancers than what they replaced; in fact throughout the ballet the female costumes were quite lovely with tasteful decoration and flattering lines. For the “Kingdom of the Shades” the tutus were a longer length, falling to the knee, always preferable to tutus of the “cake-frill” variety. The male costumes were mostly good too, though I didn’t care for the harsh colours worn by some of the attendants. Solor’s costumes were also a little problematical as despite being historically accurate reproductions of Indian male attire, they nevertheless appeared to rather overwhelm certain of the dancers and only someone who was six foot plus was going to be able to carry them off convincingly.

The sets reminded me of old watercolours or aquatints of the India of the 19th century, with the colours being slightly muted in most of the scenes. Only the “Kingdom of the Shades” which had the appearance of a disused quarry didn’t ring true. Shouldn’t the afterlife be a little more than a background of boulders? This scene was more brightly lit than is usually the case and more subdued lighting would have better enhanced the romantic mood that is created by the dancing.

Although there are a number of changes throughout the ballet, the Triumphal Procession in honour of the Idol Badrinath in the second act is the first lengthy and entirely new sequence in the ballet and would seem to have inspired the later (1948) interpolation of the Golden Idol choreographed by Nikolai Zubkovsky. I have to say I miss the Golden Idol and so did everyone else I spoke to, but the massed parades of dancers in colourful costumes provide a very impressive tableau at this point. The other wholly new sequence is the “Dance of the Lotus Blossoms” in Act IV and danced by twenty-four young students to previously unfamiliar music. The other big changes are more a matter of re-arranging with sequences of choreography being moved back to where they were originally intended.

I attended the performance on Saturday afternoon when the leading roles were danced by Sofia Gumerova, Viktoria Tereshkina and Igor Kolb. Tereshkina is a name entirely new to me and I was astonished to be told that she is in her first year with the company and only 18 years old. A baby ballerina in fact. She may be young but her dancing has remarkable maturity and she clearly understands the role of Gamzatti. This princess had always had her own way and was clearly more than a little piqued when she discovered she had a rival.   She offers her jewels after Nikiya fails to be intimidated by her regal manner and instantly regrets her pleading with a mere temple dancer. Her inner rage shows in every line of her body and just a glance at her eyes tells you that henceforth Nikiya is dead meat.

I’ve always considered that Sofia Gumerova possesses eloquence but not drama and her gentle Nikiya is less an ardent woman refusing to relinquish her man than an unfortunate victim of circumstances. She is a sad regretful figure with a melancholy line to her dancing which nevertheless suits this role rather well but she certainly isn’t a match for Tereshkina’s forceful Gamzatti. Gumerova’s duets with Kolb were affectionate rather than passionate but otherwise she has the technique for this taxing role and danced extremely well.

As the cause of all this trouble, Igor Kolb was well suited to the role of Solor, the noble warrior. You can just imagine the Raja running his eyes over his young lieutenants looking for prospective Son-in-law material and deciding that Kolb would fit the bill exactly regardless of his prowess in killing oversized cuddle toys (rethink that tiger!). Kolb very clearly portrays Solor’s torment as he is forced to choose between love and duty. He is filled with shame over the circumstances of Nikiya’s death, and his anguish at being forced to marry a woman he doesn’t love is forcibly conveyed.

Kolb looked wonderful in the costumes that seemed to swamp the shorter and slighter Sarafanov at the general rehearsal, (surely adaptations should be made to allow for different builds) and although I was prepared for a reduction in the actual dancing of this role, he danced so well that it was a disappointment not to see him dance more. At the curtain calls, flowers were raining down on the stage in appreciation of outstanding dancers, a handsome production and a wonderful company. They deserved every last one.

 

Edited by Jeff.

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