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Kirov Ballet

'La Bayadere'

by Carmel Morgan

January 22, 2008 -- The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC

The Kirov Ballet presented a highly polished and sumptuous performance of  Vladimir Ponomarev and Vakhtang Chabukiani’s three act version of Marius Petipa’s “La Bayadere” at the Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center on January 22, 2008.  “La Bayadere” premiered in 1877 at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Appropriately, it remains a beloved piece in the classical repertoire of the renowned Kirov Ballet, the company for which it was originally choreographed over a century ago.     

On this opening night, Diana Vishneva danced the lead role of Nikya, the Indian temple dancer of the ballet’s title.  Vishneva is a divine presence.  She glows like the glitter of her costumes.  She also conjures unearthliness.  Her leaps are light as a feather, masking her obvious strength.  Vishneva is practically spectral even before she reaches Act III’s “Kingdom of the Shades.”  Shockingly thin, she nonetheless projects an authoritative aura.  With her impeccable technique and poise, it is difficult to watch anyone but Vishneva when she is on stage.  While simply standing prior to a bow, Vishneva radiates  undeniable star power.

Nikya’s rival, Gamzatti, was danced by Viktoria Tereshkina, a perfect foil for Vishneva.  Tereshkina adds a certain saucy lightness to her role in contrast to Vishneva’s head-snapping drama.  Tereshkina, like Vishneva, has a back that bends in inhuman ways and possesses arms that appear as long as her infinite legs.  These two dancers epitomize the enviable perfection of a host of Russian ballerinas past and present.  They definitely outshined Andrian Fadeyev, who danced the part of Solor, the warrior torn between them.  Fadeyev’s performance seemed leaden in comparison to the two fiery females fighting for his love.   

Exoticism and suspension of reality are key to La Bayadere’s continued popularity.     The Kirov’s production is lavish and colorful, with an almost circus-like atmosphere.  The battling love triangle is buttressed by, among others, the antics of a gaggle of bedraggled male slaves and the lively dancing of ladies with stuffed parrots strapped to their wrists.  This old-fashioned spectacle, complete with a tragic death by snake bite, is utterly enjoyable if not believable.  Popov Grigory, bathed in gaudy paint, took a magnificent turn as the “Golden God,” the lifesize idol whose jumps magically hang in mid-air.     

“The Kingdom of the Shades,” which is known as one of ballet’s most beautiful corps sequences, closes this version of La Bayadere.  Here, the masterful Kirov dancers definitely did not disappoint.  While the earlier two acts are full of over-the-top entertainment and excitementthat build in tension, the third act finally brings release.  Solor, in a hazy opium-inspired dream, is reunited with his departed love Nikya.  One by one dozens of delicate white-clad figures descend a ramp, symbolizing the Himalayas.  The dancers are clouds encircling paradise, their sheer sleeves cottony wisps.  As each dancer joins, they repeat a series of lush arabesques.  This scene, above all, demands concentration and balance.  Throwing dark shadows in pools of pale green light, the dancers are ghostly and mesmerizing.  As they form perfect lines on the dim stage, their unity is almost dizzying.  There are relatively few bobbles, and these are easily ignored because the execution is nearly flawless.  “The Kingdom of the Shades” is a must-see and it is difficult to imagine a company performing it more movingly than the Kirov Ballet.       

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