Monday 14 November 2016

Dutch National Ballet's La Bayadere

Sasha Mukhamedov and Jozef Varga
(c) 2016 Team Terpsichore: all rights reserved

Dutch National Ballet, La Bayadere, Stopera, 13 Nov 2016, 14:00

There were gasps, sighs and murmurs from members of the audience as the image of Nikiya appeared momentarily before a disconsolate Solor. Nobody tried to shush them. They could not help themselves. The scene was just so beautiful. I've seen a lot of ballet in my time but I can't (for the moment at any rate) think of a more beautiful production than the Dutch National Ballet's La Bayadere. 

The version of the ballet that the company performed was by Natalia Makarova.  She had created it for American Ballet Theatre in 1980. It is the version that the Royal Ballet danced in 2013 (see La Bayadere on the Royal Opera House's website). The story in Makarova's production differed in several important respects from that of the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre which is the only other performance that I have ever seen (see the synopsis on the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre's website and my review Blown Away - St Petersburg Ballet Theatre's La Bayadere 24 Aug 2015). In Makarova's version, Solor is killed (presumably by falling masonry) when the temple collapses just as he is about to marry Gamzatti. In the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre's, he actually marries her but kills himself in a fit of remorse. St Petersburg Ballet Theatre transposes Solor's dream of the kingdom of the shades to the last act whereas in Makarova's that scene occurs in the second.

Yesterday Sasha Mukhamedov danced Nikiya, Jozef Varga Solor, Vera Tsyganova Gamzatti and Nicolas Rapaic the Brahmin. Mukhamedov had danced Nikiya with Daniel Camargo in an extract from La Bayadere at the opening night gala on 7 Sept 2016 (see Dutch National Ballet's Opening Night Gala - Improving on Excellence 8 Sept 2016) and she had impressed me with her grace and sensitivity. She showed those qualities again yesterday and I became an even bigger fan. Varga partnered Mukhamedov brilliantly. He also dances with great sensitivity but shows strength and Speed in the solo roles. Consequently, he is thrilling to watch. I had not followed Vera Tsyganova until yesterday but I shall do so from now on. Another exciting dancer but also an accomplished actor expressing eloquently the wide range of emotions that her role demanded. The young Brazilian dancer, Daniel Silva, who had impressed me in the Junior Company's Ballet Bubbles on 14 Feb 2016 (see Ballet Bubbles 16 Feb 2016) and who has recently joined the main company as an "eleve" danced the bronze idol. It was good to see him in that role and, indeed, good to see so many of the other young dancers whom I have tried to promote in this blog on stage. We saw several of the company's rising stars such as Michaela DePrince and Floor Eimers as well as many recent and current members of the Junior Company. I congratulate each and every one of those beautiful young dancers on their contribution to a magnificent performance.

The performance was magnificent not just for its choreography and dancing but also for its scenery, costumes, lighting and special effects. As in the Royal Ballet's production, the sets were designed by Pier Luigi Samaritani, costumes by Yolanda Sonnabend and lighting by John B. Read. Some of Read's lighting effects were very clever. By way of example, immediately after Nikiya had been bitten by a snake she appeared in a bluish light giving her an ashen appearance. I do not know who designed the special effects but he or she deserves special commendation. The images of falling debris in the destruction of the temple and Nikiya's fleeting appearance in Solor's dream were spectacular.

The Dutch seem to cherish their National Ballet in a way that few other countries do and the company responds by making its dancers accessible to the public.  Immediately after a gruelling performance Mukhamedov and Varga, still in full costume, sat at a desk at the bottom of the stairs to sign autographs and shake hands with their fans. In other cities members of the audience have to queue up outside the stage door in the rain to glimpse the stars but in Amsterdam the stars welcome the fans.  "So sweet and so typically Dutch", I thought.

Having recently attended a three-day workshop in Manchester to learn bits of the choreography from Jane Tucker of Northern Ballet Academy I had a personal interest in this ballet (see La Bayadere Intensive Day 3: No Snakes 17 Aug 2016). As the experts performed the steps that Jane had taught us my fingers traced the steps.  It was like the icing on the cake, the fulfilment of last August's intensive. I felt even more chuffed with myself for attending the intensive than I did in August,

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