Monday, May 3, 2010

Top Ten Ballets - La Bayadère

Nikkya's death scene - Paris Opera Ballet, 1992. Dancer: Isabelle Guerin

Watch the Paris Opera Ballet's Corps de Ballet perform the Kingdom of Shades scene (not able to embed it). You dancers out there will appreciate the extreme difficulty of executing arabesque fondues over and over again for an entire FIVE minutes! Talk about serious lower back cramps! Then, to go from that to perfect formations, gorgeous developpes, and more arabesques. Only the Paris Opera can make it look so perfect and flawless, and these aren't even the Etoiles!

This ballet, set in 19th century India, has all the makings of a juicy soap opera - an exotic dancer, a warrior, a love triangle, murder, drugs, revenge, ghosts, and true love.

La Bayadère (which means Temple Dancer or Temple Maiden) tells the story of the Bayadère Nikiya and the warrior Solor, who have sworn eternal fidelity to one another. The High Brahmin, or high temple priest, however, is also in love with Nikiya and learns of her relationship with Solor. Moreover, the Rajah Dugmanta of Golconda (or ruler) has selected Solor to be the fiancé of his daughter Gamzatti, and Nikiya, unaware of the arrangement, agrees to dance at the couple's betrothal celebrations.
The jealous High Brahmin—in an effort to have Solor killed and have Nikiya for himself—tells the Rajah that the warrior has already vowed love to the Bayadère over a sacred fire. But the High Brahmin's plan backfires when, rather than becoming angry with Solor, the Rajah vows that Nikiya should be the one who must die. Gamzatti, who has been eavesdropping on this exchange, summons Nikiya to the palace in an attempt to bribe the Bayadère into giving up her beloved. As their rivalry ensues, Nikiya picks up a dagger in a fit of rage and attempts to kill Gamzatti, only to be stopped in the nick of time by Gamzatti's aya (or maid). Nikiya then flees in horror at what she had almost done. As did her father, Gamzatti vows that the Bayadère must die.

At the betrothal celebrations Nikiya performs a somber dance while playing her veena (an Indian musical instrument). She is then given a basket of flowers which she believes are from Solor, and so begins a frenzied and joyous dance. Little does she know that the basket is from the Rajah and Gamzatti, who have concealed beneath the flowers a venomous snake. The Bayadère then holds the basket too close and the serpent charges forth and bites her on the neck. The High Brahmin offers Nikiya an antidote to the poison, but she chooses death rather than life without her beloved Solor.

In the next scene the depressed Solor smokes opium. In his dream-like euphoria he has a vision of Nikiya's shade (or spirit) in a nirvana among the star-lit mountain peaks of the Himalayas called The Kingdom of the Shades. Here, the lovers reconcile among the supreme opulence and order of the shades of other Bayadères (in the original production of 1877 this scene took place in an illuminated enchanted palace in the sky). When Solor awakes, preparations are underway for his wedding to Gamzatti.

In the temple where the wedding is to take place the shade of Nikiya haunts Solor during his dances with Gamzatti. When the High Brahmin joins the couple's hands in marriage, the Gods take revenge for Nikiya's murder by destroying the temple and all of its occupants.

The spirits of both Nikiya and Solor are reunited and spirited off toward the Himalayas.1

La Bayadère Trivia
  • Originally performed by the Imperial Ballet at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1877
  • Choreographed by the great Marius Petipa to the music of Ludwig Minkus
  • La Bayadère is an important connection between the romantic and classical eras of ballet, where the ballerinas wear the shorter classical tutus when doing ballet roles, but there are still many romantic movements and La Bayadère predates the major romantic classics by several years.2
  • Bayadère is French for an Indian temple dancer. In Russian it is called Bayaderka, the Russian word for an Indian Temple Dancer.2
  • The Kingdom of the Shades, the last scene from the ballet, is one of the most celebrated excerpts in all of classical ballet, and it is often extracted from the full-length work to be performed independently. It is also one of the most difficult men's variations that exist, with very large jumps including cabrioles and a beautiful manege (dancing in a circle) at the end.1
  • The Bronze Idol, (also called "Golden Idol" and "Little God"), is an incredibly demanding men's variation. Dressed only in a dance belt and headpiece, the dancer paints his entire body gold for this variation.2

 Adiarys Almeida of Corella Ballet dances in Natalia Makarova's "La Bayadere"; credit: Rosalie O'Connor/Corella Ballet

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