Tuesday 6 August 2013

La Bayadère, Royal Opera House

I have to point out that last week was an exceptional week! I could only keep up that level of exciting experiences in my dreams, but it was wonderful while it lasted!

On Saturday night, I was my grandfather’s hot date to the Royal Opera House. The world famous Bolshoi Ballet are celebrating 50 years since their first performance at the ROH, and from the 29th July to 17th August, they will be performing Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Jewels, The Flames Of Paris and the ballet we were there to see, La Bayadère (which translated means “temple-dancer”). First performed in 1877 by the Bolshoi, the ballet was choreographed by Marius Petipa with music by Ludwig Minkus. I thought I would retell the beautiful story, including some of the best bits from the performance I saw… 

Set in India, the ballet opens with Solor, a young and strapping warrior, hunting in the forest. Solor is in love with a young bayadère named Nikiya, and asks Magdaveya (the fakir) to organize a meeting between the two of them. At the temple, the High Brahmin, the priest and the fakirs are worshipping the sacred flame. The bayadères all come out to dance, and amongst them is the beautiful Nikiya. Though incredibly talented, there was no doubt, looking at the dancers from Row E (just dropping that in there ), that nearly all of them were Russian-born, but when Olga Smirnova (Nikiya) came out of the temple for the first time, she looked every bit an Indian princess. Her features, her movements, the way she held herself – everything was perfect (and she's only 21!). After her first dance it is clear that Solor isn’t the only one who has eyes for Nikiya; the High Brahmin is in love with her too. He declares his love to her, but she rejects him and, after witnessing from afar the couples’ secret meeting, he is enraged, and decides to hatch a plan with the Rajah.

The next morning, the Rajah announces to his daughter, Princess Gazmatti, his plan for her betrothal to none other than the warrior, Solor! She is over the moon, and very excited to meet him. Solor, on the other hand, is left in a state of confusion; he does find the princess very attractive, but he is aware of the vow he has made to Nikiya. The sets in this production were jaw-droppingly amazing. Although my brain was telling me that it was all a two-dimensional backdrop, my eyes wouldn’t believe it. When I went to the Colesium, I commented that, when the ballet started, I was aware of how large the auditorium was, but when La Bayadère started, it was the size of the stage that hit me.

The High Brahmin enters to palace and orders a private meeting with the Rajah. Although the court is dismissed, Gazmatti senses that this may be in connection to the wedding, so eavesdrops from afar. The High Brahmin shares his knowledge of Solor and Nikiya’s relationship, and the Rajah is also furious. But the High Brahmin’s plan backfires, as the Rajah orders for Nikiya’s death, and not Solor’s as he had planned. Having heard everything, Gazmatti sends for Nikiya. She breaks the news to her that she is betrothed to her love, and in a fit of rage, Nikiya threatens the Princess with a dagger, but is stopped by a slave girl. This is the end of Act I.

Act II, like in most classical ballets, is dedicated to a great festivity, this one held to mark the occasion of Solor and Gazmatti’s wedding. Many different groups of dancers take to the stage at a time; we had bayadères, water-carriers, young children, drummers, the lot, and each dance ended with a roar of applause from the audience. The last is done by Nikiya, who has been asked to perform at the celebration, but is unable to hide her grief. As she finishes, however, Magdaveya hands her a basket of flowers. She is overjoyed, as she believes they are from Solor, but suddenly, as she dances with them, a snake jumps out of the basket and bites her on the neck! It then becomes clear that the Princess has been victorious in seeking her revenge. As Nikiya struggles to stand, the High Brahmin offers her an antidote, but says that with this, she must also accept his love. Deciding that she would rather die than to be denied of Solor’s love, Nikiya falls to the ground, and dies.

In Act III, Solor runs into his chamber, distraught and in need of distraction. Magdaveya hands him an Opium pipe, and soon he is lulled into a deep sleep…

Transported to the top of the cliffs, Solor dreams he is in the Kingdom of Shades, and what follows is the dance that La Bayadère is most famous for. One by one in an endless procession, the bayadères dance down the cliff, all in beautiful white tutus against the backdrop of a midnight sky (on one particular strike of the cymbals, all the stars magically lit up). Solor sees his love Nikiya amongst them, and they dance for one last time before the ballet ends, the idea being that their souls are finally reunited in the afterlife.

Apparently there was originally a fourth act, where God destroys the temple and punishes Gazmatti and the Rajah, but I agree that leaving it to three acts is somewhat more romantic. I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to see a classic ballet, performed by the best dancers in one of the best venues in the world. What an unforgettable night.  

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