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Too Many Bayaderes February 4, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 6:47 pm
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I guess I’ll be doing this every February…remember when I spent a few days watching various versions of Swan Lake?  Well, this February it’s La Bayadere.  I’ve only watched two so far, and of course also watched a video of the death of Nikiya as portrayed by the newest Nikiya, Evgenia Obraztsova (very touching, but we expected this of her, didn’t we?).

I have to say that I don’t much like the Bolshoi’s La Bayadere.  One reason is that it cuts off after the Kingdom of the Shades.  The excuse given for this is that the Kingdom scene is almost a separate ballet and has “nothing to do with the rest of the story.”  I beg to differ.  The temple destruction scene brings the story to a proper conclusion.  The Kingdom of the Shades, awesome as it is, merely sets up that conclusion.  It is not a story in itself, although it does well as a stand-alone piece (as does the second act of Giselle, probably for the same reason).

I saw Natalia Makarova’s Bayadere live many, many years ago.  I believe Solar was Anthony Dowell, and Nikiya was definitely Natalia Makarova; Gamzatti may have been Magali Messac (as I remember it was not Cynthia Harvey, although she did originate that role in the Makarova production at ABT).  As I sat in the audience, I heard a steady stream of snide comments trickling from a very North Shore grande dame behind me.  She was making cracks about the over-wrought silent-movie acting and all the running around and gesturing rather than dancing.  I saw her point, even if I did not appreciate having to listen to her.

I also see the point that what’s portrayed in this ballet has nothing to do with India.  I’d be more comfortable if someone just set it in an “exotic land.”  There was a recent attempt in Europe to make Solar into a British officer and Gamzatti into a British colonial governor’s daughter.  This makes more sense to me than all this “Indians in India” pretense, since the story could then be told through Western eyes which are bound to get a lot of things wrong.

While watching these videos, I giggled when I finally realized, after all these years, that the High Brahman’s music is also used in the Beatles’ very silly movie Help!  After realizing that, I’m second-guessing my plan to see the Joffrey version of this ballet (opening later this year).  I might laugh out loud.

However, I still love this ballet and I love the WHOLE ballet.  Don’t like what the Bolshoi does to it; the truncation doesn’t work.  Having Solar appear to fall in love with Gamzatti doesn’t help anything.  Having Gamzatti be a helpless innocent just takes some drama out of the proceedings.  All in all, it’s not as much fun.

The versions I have watched so far were the recent Bolshoi broadcast starring (a somewhat weak-looking) Svetlana Zakharova as Nikiya and a powerful Maria Alexandrova as Gamzatti, and a 1991 version from the Royal Ballet with Altnai Asymuratnova as a hopelessly innocent and pure Nikiya and Darcey Bussell as a wonderfully acid spoiled-brat Gamzatti.  You definitely wouldn’t put it past this Gamzatti to kill someone for taking her toys away. Anthony Dowell’s Brahman went way over the top, but what a joy to watch!

Going on to the POB version next, IF I can get myself to sit through a Rudolph Nureyev production…


6 Responses to “Too Many Bayaderes”

  1. atlantic Says:

    I enjoyed the recent POB version. I like the kingdom of shades, and particularly because Nikiya’s extensions were kept in check. I did not realize how distracting the 6 o’clock extensions were.

    I have never seen the entire ballet with the temple destruction (probably because I always see the POB version on YT or only clips). I should probably try to watch it. I know the Royal Ballet does the full 4 acts.

    I think i read that Nureyev wanted to end the ballet with Solor and Nikiya together in the dreamland. I can understand that, but it does seem like there isn’t a resolution to the story.

    Hands down my favorite part is the mime between Nikiya and Gamzatti. You really don’t see that much pure mime in ballet.

    • theworstat Says:

      Yes, do try to watch that 1991 Royal Ballet La Bayadere on YouTube. If you can’t find it, I’ll post a link here.

      I’m wondering if the Bolshoi feels that just leaving the ballet ending with the Kingdom of the Shades scene equals having Nikiya and Solar living serenely in the afterworld. But it doesn’t. To me, it was jarring not to have that extra scene at the end. That scene is also very, very dramatic, with Gamzatti being threatened by a woman carrying a small basket of flowers (you should see the reaction from Bussell), and the ghost of Nikiya busting up the wedding and dancing with Solar. Then the whole place comes tumbling down. It’s great, and it makes dramatic sense.

      I don’t mind the mime, although I can see where that woman behind me so many years ago lost patience with it (“oh look…she’s running over there. Now she’s running back here again”. Our eyes are not used to it anymore. And it just so happened that that night, Makarova was going a bit to the outer edge with her acting. Some folks actually snickered. But it was a great performance.

  2. Anna Says:

    In think one of the best Nikiyas of all time is Nadezhda Gracheva, who recently coached Evgenia Obraztsova in the role. Obraztsova shares some of Gracheva’s sensibility of the role. Gracheva portrays a very realistic (not mannered), supremely touching, endlessly loving Nikiya.

    A few clips: (Act 1 PDD with Solor) (Nikiya monologue and basket/death scene)

    (Kingdom of Shades with Uvarov)

  3. Yamagata Says:

    Here is a portion of the first act with Magali Messac as Nikiya & Kevin McKenzie as Solor (ABT)

  4. Yamagata Says:

    Here is a portion of the first act with Magali Messac as Nikiya & Kevin McKenzie as Solor (ABT)

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