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…