Kirov Ballet

'La Bayadère'

by Thea Nerissa Barnes

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

”La Bayadère” performed by The Kirov Ballet is a reconstruction of Marius Petipa and Sergei Khudekov’s 1900 original libretto and Ludwig Minkus’ original score. The reconstruction team consisted of Sergei Vikharev (choreography), Mikhail Shishliannikov (sets and lighting design), Tatiana Noginova (costumes), and Ludmilla Sveshnikova (music preparation). The reconstruction process benefited from several archival sources. Minkus’ original handwritten score is stored in the Mariinsky Theatre Music Library. Régisseur Nikolai Sergeyev’s Stepanov notation and manuscript répétiteurs provided details regarding dance combinations, entrances, exits and the pantomime synchronised with musical text. Sets and costume designs were archived on canvases, sketches, photographs, and blueprints. Pyotr Lambin’s model for Solor’s dream and The Kingdom of the Shades was stored at St. Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music. St. Petersburg State Theatre Library was the source for Evgeny Ponomarev sketches of costumes.

The story in a nutshell:
Set in India, La Bayadère is a story of unrequited love. An Indian temple dancer, a bayadère, Nikiya is in love with Solor, a noble warrior. The Ragaj decides that Solor is to marry his daughter Gamzatti. Gamzatti confronts Nikiya and seeks to convince her to give up Solor. Their argument leads Nikiya to draw a knife on Gamzatti in defence of her love for Solor. Solor though only once seeing Gamzatti betrays his promise of love to Nikiya. A secret suitor of Nikiya, the High Brahmin, tells the Ragaj about Nikiya’s love for Solor. The Ragaj and Gamzatti plot to kill Nikiya. Ordered by the Ragaj, Nikiya dances with a basket of flowers that contains an asp that bites and kills her.

Solor anguished by the death of Nikiya is haunted by her vision, a shade that visits him in his chamber before and during his sleep. In a dream Solor chases Nikiya through the Kingdom of the Shades but never catches her. At the wedding ceremony of Solor and Gamzatti the gods so infuriated by the killing of Nikiya destroy the temple killing everyone. Nikiya, it seems, wins her love in death.

The ballet lasting some 3 plus hours is an awesome spectacle. The pantomime consisting of arm gestures, use of the back and muscle tone, essentially the telling of the story through bodily narrative, extends from Petipa’s generation to the present. The audience’s snickering at pantomime reminiscent of silent movies at this performance was polite and did not deter from the grace revealed in this particular aesthetic. Daria Pavlenko as Nikiya, Andrian Fadeyev as Solor, and Valdimir Ponomarev as the High Brahmin participated in the pantomime with accomplished ardour. Ponomarev’s articulate arm gestures and differences in carriage could have benefited with a bit more weight but nonetheless revealed the workings of this character’s mind. Each step was an indication of his role in this love story.

Pavlenko was gorgeous. Her rebukes of the High Brahmin were indicated through dramatic gesture, complete with bodily tone, twist in her back and intention in the hands, arms, and head. Even in the scenes before her death her dancing was everything one could imagine a prima ballerina to be; long legs and arms that bespoke of Nikiya’s joys and sorrows, her love for Solor, and her rage toward Gamzatti, performed by Elvira Tarasova, that ushers in the events that lead to her death. Fadeyev is impressive as Solor, his carriage and gesture implying his role in the drama. As his character’s name suggest, he is the centre of the universe and in this ballet he is as important as the ballerinas. In this ballet the romantic hero embodies classical lines and exceptional virtuosity along with a depth of character that assists in fortifying the story line.

Act 2 scene 1 is propelled with music and gesture dramatising the rivalry of Nikiya and Gamzatti with act 2 scene 2 containing divertissement that precedes Nikiya’s solo that leads to her death. In the divertissement, Manu performed by Elena Vasyukovich and the Infernal Dance led by Galina Rakhmanova, Islom Baimuradov, and Vassily Scherbakov were special. Act 4 and the Apotheosis presents the Dance of the Lotus Blossoms with students from Central School, Elmhurst School, Susan Robinson School and Junior Associates of the Royal Ballet School. The pas d’action had its mix of solo variations interjected in the drama: Nikiya’s shade moving among Solor and Gamzatti’s wedding duets and solos, Solor showing off his dazzling technique with soaring grand jetés and tours en l’airs while Gamzatti dazzles us with 28 fouetté turns.

”La Bayadère,” trading on Western curiosities of the mysterious East, conjures a jungle paradise where disparate destinies clash. A temple woman’s aspirations seem no match for the wishes of royalty, but Fate brings retribution, and love proves stronger than death. A guilty conscience is the weapon that haunts Solor; his apparitions of Nikiya segueing into The Kingdom of Shades. To witness such an awesome display of ensemble dancing was extraordinary. Any dance that illustrates the triumph of a group of 32 dancers moving in complete unison is just breathtaking. I marvelled at the gradual plié in arabesque that sequenced into that slight bend in the back that was reiterated over and over down 2 raisers upstage to the deck of the stage. That precarious développé in 2nd in a landscape of pointe shoes, arms and legs of same proportions, soft skirts and subdued light would make any wobble a distraction and surprisingly there were practically none. All power to the corps de ballet!! Their unity was their grace. The soloists were exquisite but the corps made me tear so astonishing was their unified tenacity.

Audience chatter at the intervals gave mixed reviews regarding the amount of pantomime in acts 1 and 2. Those who reconstruct have a choice to disregard the prescriptions of the originators and consider the sensibilities of current audiences. In this case the choice of artistic director, Makhar Vaziev, and the reconstruction team to follow the original 1900 production team’s prescriptions is a commendable one. Of course one can say the original team made revisions and then each performer in that generation and currently in this 21st century bring different physiques, innovative techniques and fresh interpretations to prescribed variations. But to say “too much mime” disrespects the context of birth and the vision the work extends from, its particular aesthetic for telling the story in its unique way. Besides, it was performed exceptionally well!!


Edited by Jeff.

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