Thursday, February 10, 2011

La Bayadère

My wife and I went to a production of La Bayadère last night at the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre.  The LNOBT director has come under fire for the major investment made into the stage and backdrops, but it seems like money well spent judging by the lavish production we saw last night.  No live elephants or tigers, as in the original 1877 Moscow production, but the luscious palms and ancient temple of the first scene transported you back in time.

It was a very traditional interpretation of the classical 3-act ballet by Altynai Asylmuratova and Liudmila Kovaliova.  The scenes were presented more as showcases for the dancers than creating an emotional resonance between dancers.  The little idol, glazed in sparkling gold paint, is the star of the wedding scene, even with Solor brought in on a huge brightly painted elephant.  You get very little feeling for the love between Solor and the temple dancer Nikiya until her solo dance in the second act before the Rajah, the warrior and his prized bride, Gamzatti.  Little does lovely Nikiya know that Gamzatti planted a deadly cobra in the bowl of roses that were offered her in the name of Solor.

Similarly, one doesn't really sense the love the High Brahmin harbors for Nikiya when he offers to restore her life with an antidote for the poison.  She tosses the vial away refusing to accept his offer, choosing to die in the arms of Solor.  The poor warrior falls into a deep sorrow that only a snake charmer can rescue him from by transporting Solor into a kingdom of shadows where he is reunited with his true love.  While this "dream sequence" starts off on an excellent note with a hypnotizing troupe of dancers streaming down from the Himalayas, the love between Solor and Nikiya is barely felt.  Instead, we are treated to a lovely array of dances, much like the wedding scene in the second act.  One very much wants to see Solor and Nikiya come together emotionally, not just physically.

No doubt the play was a big hit in its day.  There are some wonderfully choreographed scenes that faithfully retain the original sequences of Marius Petipa.  He staged a number of classic productions in the 19th century, including Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty.  The music doesn't fair so well.  The composition by Ludwig Minkus is rather repetitive and clunky.  There have been a number of revivals over the years.  Perhaps the most famous being that of the great Nureyev, when he restored the full length ballet at the Paris Opera in 1991.

La Bayadère, or Bajaderė as it is called in Lithuanian, was first shown in 2007 with Nerijus Juška and Miki Hamanaka in the lead roles.  Last night we saw Romas Ceizaris and Nailia Adigamova in the leads.  Both were excellent and Nailia Adigamova very lovely in the fatal wedding scene dance.


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