Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Mariinsky's Bayadère

Bolshoi Theatre, St Petersburg

Mariinsky Ballet, La Bayadère, Royal Opera House, 12 Aug 2017, 14:00

Yesterday afternoon's performance of La Bayadère by the Mariinsky Ballet met all my hopes and expectations. As I have had to cut out ballet for the last few weeks I had promised to treat myself to something nice once I had done all that I was supposed to do. And what a treat La Bayadere turned out to be.  It was an enchanting performance. A dramatic story. Awesome choreography. Thrilling dancing. Lavish sets and costumes. And, of course, Minkus's magnificent score.

I have often wondered why La Bayadère is not performed more often, particularly by companies outside Russia.  I think that at least part of the answer must be that it cannot be easy to stage or at least to stage well.  It requires considerable dramatic skills on the part of the lead dancers as well as technical virtuosity because they have to communicate powerful emotions to the audience. These include love as it subsists between Solor and Nikiya in the first and last acts, jealousy on the part of the brahmin and Gamzatti (a jealousy in the case of the latter that is so strong that it induces her to commit murder), the conflict between love and duty on the part of Solor when forced to choose between his ruler's daughter and his lover and despair and perhaps a sense of betrayal on the part of Nikiya when she refuses the brahmin's antidote to the serpent's venom because she can't see the point of living if she can't have Solor. The success of a performance of this ballet depends to a large extent on the ability of the dancers to communicate those emotions and especially the conflicts inside the heads of Solor and Nikiya.

I think Yekaterina Chebykina who danced Nikiya, Timur Askerov who was her Solor, Nadezhda Batoeva who danced Gamzatti and Soslan Kulaev, the brahmin, did pretty well. Chebykina impressed me particularly because of her expressive countenance and especially her doe like eyes. At times she seemed to dance with her eyes much in the way that Antoinette Sibley used to do. It was in that regard and for that reason that I admired Sibley even more than Margot Fonteyn though I loved Fonteyn too. Askerov is a fine dance-actor too though I was thrilled most by his mighty leaps. Batoeva also impressed me with her virtuosity. As for the brahmin, Kulaev communicated his jealousy, his cunning, his malevolence to the entire house.

In the Mariinsky's version of La Bayadère the golden idol is just one of several divertissements at Solor and Gamzatti's wedding celebrations whereas in other versions the idol seems to central to the story. So great is the offence of Nikiya's betrayal in the eyes of the gods that they cause a statue to come to life rather like the Commendatore in Don Giovanni. It was my favourite dance when I was learning the choreography last year (see La Bayadere Intensive Day 2: Idols and Disembodied Shades 17 Aug 2016).  Nothing like that yesterday but it was still a very popular dance which earned Vasily Tkachencko some loud cheers as well as sustained clapping. Tamara Gimadieva, one of the members of the corps who performed another of the divertissements with a jug, also received a resounding cheer.

Although I have not heard anybody mention it, this year marks the 140th anniversary of the first performance of La Bayadère.  According to our cast sheet, it was first danced at the Bolshoi Theatre in St Petersburg on 23 Jan 1877.  "The Bolshoi Theatre where?" I hear you say.  "I have heard of a Bolshoi in Moscow but not St Petersburg. Well, apparently there was a "bolshoi" in St Petersburg too but the authorities closed it down for health and safety reasons and the company moved to the Mariinsky Theatre where it has remained to this day. There is an engraving of the St Petersburg bolshoi at the top of this blog. I have never got round to studying Russian (though it is on my "to do" list to stop me losing my marbles should I ever retire) but I think "bolshoi" just means "big" hence "bolshevik" which has somehow become "bolshie" (troublemaker) in our language.

I should just say a few words about the sets and costumes.  The sets were gorgeous.  I particularly liked the stuffed elephant and the palanquins for the wedding ceremony.  The costumes were also lavish, particularly the rajah and the brahmin's outfits. Evgeny Ponomarev has to be congratulated. Also, there was some ingenious lighting particularly of Nikiya and the shades in the last act.  In every regard, it was a very polished production.

There was just one disappointment about yesterday's show and that was the lukewarm response from the audience. There's usually a ripple of applause to welcome the principals. Not yesterday. There should have been flowers all round for all the leading ladies. Not a single petal.  And the curtain calls should have lasted and lasted. Those dancers gave us their all yesterday and we should have thanked them properly. I know London sees a lot of ballet and it takes a lot to impress a Cockney but yesterday's matinee was a great deal better than a lot of shows that have earned more rapturous applause. I watched the ballet with a fellow Mancunian and we agreed that the Lowry or Palace would have risen as one. I think so too would New Yorkers who also see a lot of ballet or even maungy old Yorkers in the Alhambra or Grand. Londoners are spoilt. Too damn snooty for their own good. 

So it is up to me to do justice to the artists.  Well, here are some digital roses for Chebykina, Batoeva and each of the other super talented women dancers:
Author Jebulon
Licence Creative Commons Attribution share alike 3.0 unported

And a very special single malt for each of the men:

Authr Sansvase
Licence Creative Commons Attribution share alive 3.0 unproted

Xander Parish will tell you all about malt whisky if you don't already know.

Have a good trip back to Russia, folks, and come back soon.

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