First performed in 1877 in St Petersburg, the ballet La Bayadere is one of Marius Petipa’s greatest works, being a saga of passion, betrayal and redemption set in India. This stunning production is now being brought to the Royal Opera House by the Bolshoi Ballet, which is one of Russia’s greatest companies, in commemoration of 50 years of performance since it was first performed in Covent Garden. It is a tragic story of the temple dancer Nikiya’s doomed love for the warrior Solor which has been illuminated with dazzling sets and costumes by Nikolai Sharonov. Nikiya had secretly sworn her eternal love to Solor, a noble warrior.
When she spurns the attention being given to her by the High Brahmin, he becomes very angry and resolves to have Solor killed. The story is rounded off with homage to the long-lost final act in which the wicked are punished and the protagonists, the temple dancer and her weak-willed lover are reunited in their next lives. Makarova provides exactly what are the expectations of 19th century ballet through an improved apotheosis, the collapse of the temple in the disintegration of the masonry and the disintegration of the Buddha. All these have been cleverly devised by Covent Garden’s technicians with projections and plenty of dry ice.
Ever since the premiere of La Bayadere at the Bolshoi Theatre in St Petersburg in 1877, there have been regular performances throughout the 20th century in the former Soviet Union. The West was, however, oblivious of the ballet until 1961 when the famous Kingdom of the Shades scene was performed by the touring Kirov Ballet. The ballet was seen by Natalia Makarova as a child in Leningrad and she created this version for American Ballet Theatre in 1980.
The story of love, murder and vengeful judgement by the gods is set in legendary India while the lyrical score is provided by Ludwig Minkus. Powerful moments for the two opposing ballerinas are provided by the choreography for the beautiful temple dancer, Nikiya and her jealous rival Gamzatti. In a stunning solo, a bronze idol comes vividly to life.
The most frequently performed sequence of La Bayadere is the dream-like Kingdom of the Shades in which a group of ballerinas dance in harmony across a moonlit stage.