Sunday, 4 November 2018
Nothing Wrong with this La Bayadère
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Royal Ballet La Bayadère Royal Opera House 3 Nov 2018 13:30
It is often said that only the Russians can do La Bayadère. In one online forum to which I subscribe, I have read the suggestion that the Royal Ballet should not even bother to stage that ballet "because the Russians do it so much better." While it is true that only the Russians did La Bayadère until very recently I find it a very curious argument. Nobody says anything like that in respect of Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker or any of the other 19th century Russian classics. As it is set in Golkonda in India by a French-born choreographer to an Austrian composer's score, the ballet is not actually all that Russian.
Yesterday's matinee performance of La Bayadère by the Royal Ballet is the fourth that I have seen. The others were by the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre in August 2015, the Dutch National Ballet in November 2016 and the Mariinsky last year. Each of those productions including yesterday's had its good points. The Royal Ballet's lay in the set and projection designs except for the appearance of a Buddha in what was supposed to be a Hindu temple. I watched the show with one friend who is a Hindu and another who comes from Japan which is a predominately Buddhist country and I don't think either was impressed by that solecism. Notwithstanding that niggle, it was a very slick and polished production with a well-rehearsed corps and particularly good performances by the shades (Yuhui Choe, Fumi Kaneko and Beatriz Stix-Brunell) and the bronze idol (Valentino Zuchetti).
I could not fault the lead dancers, Sarah Lamb, Ryoichi Hirano or Claire Calvert who were Nikiya, Solor and Gamzatti respectively. At the curtain call, Lamb was presented with a very respectable bouquet from which she selected one rose for Hirano and another for the conductor, Boris Gruzin but Calvert received even bigger bouquets (presumably from a well-wisher in the audience) which is something I have never seen before in over half a century of ballet going. The lead dancers were well supported by Yorkshireman Thomas Whitehead as the brahmin (earning an especially loud cheer at the reverence from our little section of the stalls on account of his Borealian provenance), Bennet Gartside as the rajah and Liverpudlian Kristen McNally as the aya.
Although I liked yesterday's show I preferred the Dutch National Ballet's two years ago. I think that is because of the superb performance by Sasha Mukhamedov who will always be my Nikiya. The Royal Ballet's production like the Dutch National Ballet's was created by Natalia Makarova. There is another version of the ballet by Stanton Welch for the Houston Ballet with designs by Peter Farmer and an arrangement of the score by John Lanchberry that I would love to see. Birmingham Royal Ballet appealed for funding to bring it to the UK to which I actually contributed (see A Birmingham Bayadère 26 Nov 2016) but that idea was abandoned when the local authority cut its funding to the company (see How Nikiya must have felt when she saw a snake 21 Jan 2017).
Yesterday was my first opportunity to see the result of the building works that have been carried out around the Royal Opera House over the last few years. We snuck downstairs to the Linbury bar and lobby which now looks very smart and we had a cup of tea at the new cafeteria at the entrance to the lobby which also doubled as a cloakroom. All very new and shiny but a little confusing. One obvious inconvenience was the ladies' loo has been moved and there was inadequate signage to its new location. Another is that there is nothing like enough space in the cafeteria. As free wifi is provided, I suspect that some of those spaces were occupied by folks with laptops with no particular interest in opera and ballet, but that may not be a bad thing.
On the whole, we three musketeers from the North had a good day in London and it was good to meet in the interval a worthy D'Artganan, namely Marion Pettet who was until recently the chair of the Chelmsford Ballet upon which Powerhouse Ballet is modelled. Marion has given us a lot of tips and encouragement over the last few months and it was good to see her again.
The ballet will be screened to cinemas in the UK on 13 Nov 2018 and I recommend it strongly. It may not be the very best (but then there is only one Mukhamedov) but it is still a very good production. Lots of drama, some beautiful solos, the mesmerizing descent into the kingdom of the shades, some great projection technology. There is nothing wrong with our Bayadère and if the Russians, Dutch or Texans do better ones, never let the best be the enemy of the good.