Tuesday, 31 March 2015

La Bayadère

On Saturday I saw Shobana Jeyasingh's Bayadère - Ninth Life and you will see my report (I can't call it a review because I am still digesting it) at La Bayadère - The Ninth Life 29 March 2015. Jeyasingh suggested a connection between a visit by temple dancers from Pondicherry to Paris in 1838 and Petipa's ballet in St. Petersburg in 1877. While I was sceptical at first I think there may well have been through Théophile Gautier,

The reason for my scepticism is that there was a 39 year time lapse and a thousand miles of distance between the visit of the temple dancers to Paris in 1838 and the premiere of La Bayadère in St Petersburg in 1877. But then I remembered that Gautier was the librettist of Giselle.  Marius Petipa who created La Bayadère knew Giselle well and staged his own version in St Petersburg in 1884. When you compare the two ballets you notice similarities. For instance the heroine dies a pretty horrible death in both ballets.  Giselle in a fit or by a heart attack upon learning of Albrecht's deception; and Nikiya by a bite from a snake concealed in a basket of flowers. Both have visions of the afterlife: the vengeful wilis on the prowl in the forests and the shades in the mountains, Both visions provide great roles for the corps. 

Except for the entry of the shades which is sometimes shown at galas, La Bayadère is not well known in this country. Natalia Makarova has staged a version for the Royal Ballet which was last danced two years ago (see La Bayadère on the Royal Opera House's website) and it has been performed by visiting companies from Russia. A performance of the whole ballet in the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg can be seen on YouTube. There is a pretty good entry on the ballet in Wikipedia. The Royal Ballet website has a great interview with Nehemiah Kish who danced Solor and an interesting article by Paul Kilbey entitled Eastern Promises: The allure of the Orient in opera and ballet with a clip of the dance of the bronze idol.

The reason I have compiled these resources is that Marion Pettet of the Chelmsford Ballet Company who tweeted yesterday
Anyone who watched her in Pineapple Poll and Carnival of the Animals two weeks ago will agree that Marion  knows a lot about ballet. I mentioned it as a possible project for the company because they have a lot of good female dancers who could dance the shades well. I would love to see someone dance this ballet again.

I know who would be the perfect Nikiya -  not because she is of South Asian heritage but because she reminds me so much of the first English dancer to dance that role. But I can imagine others such as Leebolt, Gittens and Mutso in the role. Rojo, Nixon, Bintley, Hampson - are you listening?

Post Script
10 April 2015

The Paris Opera are staging Nureyev's version of La Bayadère between 17 Nov and 31 Dec 2015 (see the Paris National Opera's website). I know what I want for an early Deepvali present.


  1. Thank you Jane. As always well written and comprehensive. I have already watched some of the links that you suggested. I just need a writer night st home to watch thoroughly and take note. Marion