St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre - 'La Bayadere'
November 29, 2004 -- Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, England
For a touring company to attempt the full-length “La Bayadere” is a very brave undertaking. It is also something of a gamble considering the limited resources of a smaller troupe compared with the major companies. So, a gamble that paid off? Yes – but only just.
Last night St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre showed us their new production of “La Bayadere” at its British premiere in Wolverhampton, only their second performance following a preview in their hometown. This was, with the addition of one extra scene at the end, a very traditional Russian/Soviet version similar to the Kirov’s, though I was unable to ascertain who exactly was responsible for the staging.
The sets were pretty standard 19th century style with the usual confusion of Hindu/Buddhist/Taoist imagery. The costumes on the whole were very attractive, though the odd pointed headdresses for the girls in the second act classical pas were rather unflattering, and the usual parrots were in this instance enormous grey birds with red crests that seemed like a cross between owls and cockatoos. The golden God wore a strange golden cat suit, presumably because he has to double up in other roles in such a small group, and the traditional gold paint would take too long to both apply and remove. Generally though, the production looked quite handsome.
Dancing the pivotal role of Nikiya, Irina Kolesnikova made an excellent impression in a role that suits her to perfection. She is possessed of the “grand manner,” and her only failing is she looked a little too regal to be a humble temple dancer. When she faced up to Gamzatti, it was Kolesnikova who appeared the more stately. Her partner on this occasion was Dminry Akulinin, who frankly looked out of his depth and doesn’t have the technique for Solor, a role demanding a mix of both lyricism and virtuosity. As Nikiya’s love rival, Gamzatti, Diana Madysheva made a very good stab at the part and will no doubt improve with experience.
The all-important corps de ballet coped reasonably well, but there is room for improvement throughout the ballet. The Kingdom of the Shades was inhabited by only sixteen shades instead of the usual thirty two, but the faster than is now familiar tempo for the penchee arabesques did simplify things for the girls -- and by the way, this was the tempo the Kirov corps danced to thirty years ago. I believe it was Nureyev who decided it would look more beautiful slowed down.
It was the final act that sprung the biggest surprise of the evening, and in my opinion it was also the biggest mistake. It opens with the familiar scene of Solor smoking his opium pipe, while the fakir tries to distract him with a snake-charming act before imagining himself in Kingdom of the Shades. Without the final Destruction of the Temple act, the ballet should end with Nikiya and Solor reunited in the world of dreams. This version ends quite differently though, with an added scene in which Solor awakes in despair. He dismisses the fakir who exits hurriedly, leaving behind his snake in a linen bag. Solor makes his decision to join Nikiya and commits suicide by plunging his hand into the bag. As ballet deaths go, it is pretty feeble -- even worse than Hilarion’s death in “Giselle” where he is dispatched by being pushed into the wings. This is a serious error of judgement on someone’s part, and this ineffectual scene needs to be cut.
I hope I haven’t seemed unduly harsh on what is, after all, a valiant attempt to mount a blockbuster of a ballet. This new acquisition clearly needs to settle down and a few minor changes need to be made. The dancers were clearly enjoying themselves in their new roles, and with more familiarity with the steps they will improve to do the ballet justice. I’m very much looking forward to seeing this “Bayadere” later in the tour when I’m sure the dancers will be giving an excellent account of themselves.
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