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Paris Opera Ballet's "La Bayadere"
London, May 9, 2000

by Stuart Sweeney

POB have not been to the UK for 17 years. Let's hope it's not as long before they return. The highly enjoyable 'La Bayadère' was a good choice for a variety of reasons - it is probably be the most spectacular production that will be seen in the Lowry for a long time and it shows off the strength in depth of the Company.

The excellent programme notes explain that Nureyev's version follows the Kirov production closely . The first Act introduces the characters and gets the story started with various ensemble dances and some solo work for Nikiya. In the second act the plot puts its feet up for most of the 45 minutes, and we see plenty of solo and more ensemble dance on the occasion of the betrothal of Gamzatti and Solor, until the climax with the death of Nikiya. The third Act, with the entry of the Shades and much virtuoso dance is, understandably, one of the most popular in the entire repertoire. Nureyev, unlike Makarova, follows the current Kirov version and drops the final Act with the destruction of the temple and bodies everywhere. As a result the Bronze Idol variation and the Pas d'Action are moved to Act II.

There is much to admire in the sets and the costumes and and the designer Frigerio describes the concept as, '… a mix of the Indian and the Ottoman empire….' Thus there is no attempt at an Indian 'reality' and the second act features a Moorish palace and Solor's chamber has some very attractive Art Nouveaux glass windows. It's probably just as well, as the choreography has few links to the India and in one instance seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to steps from the Hungarian Czardas. The only aspect of the production that made me uncomfortable was the brown bodies of the 'Hindus' and others not of the ruling clique. Somehow it would have made sense if everyone was made up this way, but as it was, it did seem an unnecessary anomaly.

The high spots of the Sunday matinee for me were the dancing of Manuel Legris and the corps de ballet. Whilst the slight Legris is not a convincing soldier, in all other aspects his performance was superb. From his first entrance, the elegance of his gestures in the most mundane movements marked him out as an exemplar of the famous Paris tradition. I was impressed with his musicality, his eloquent use of the upper body and his sureness of step in the solo sections. His presence on stage is remarkable. In addition, his partnering of both ballerinas seemed attentive. A case could be made that he showed little anguish or confusion in the early stages at the choice he has to make between his two loves, but it didn't really seem to matter.

The corps were lovely to behold throughout with fine ensemble dancing and much, that word again, elegance. The entrance of the Shades had very dim lighting, which took something away from the experience for me. Nevertheless, higher lighting levels for the difficult second half of this opening sequence for the corps showed them tackling the exposed balances with a good deal more assurance than English National Ballet had shown in the same work at the Coliseum earlier this year.

Fanny Gaïda danced the role of Nikiya. Her fluent and supple port de bras reminded me of Viviana Durante and the restrained emotional power of her dancing was at its best in her heart-breaking solo at the end of Act II. However, despite her fine technique, I found her movement style did not totally engage me. Aurélie Dupont played Gamzatti with the attitude of a spoiled and conniving rich girl and her heartless murder of Nikiya was certainly chilling. Her technique in the Act II solos seemed very fine and I am keen to see her in a longer role than this one. With ballerinas of the quality of these two, I suspect that at the end of the day it comes down to personal subjectivity. With neither Gaïda nor Dupont did I find myself sucking in my breath as I have done in the past year with Durante, Daria Klimentova of ENB or San Francisco's extraordinary Lucia Lacarra. But that's my problem, not theirs

Nureyev's 'La Bayadère' provides much opportunity for other soloists to show what they can do. Fanny Fiat danced with much verve in 'Djampo' and the 'Indian Dance'. Gil Isoart made the most of the virtuoso exoticism of the Bronze Idol variation and Laëtitia Pujol, dancing second, made the biggest impression on me of the three Shade variations.

Overall, The Lowry has had a grand opening, fitting for its bold concept and some 8,000 ballet fans have seen a splendid production by a very fine company. And it's the word company that is the most important here with the depth of talent and the care to detail by all those concerned magnifying the total effect.

Do come back soon POB. Please.

 

Please join a discussion of this performance in our forum.

Edited by Azlan Ezaddin.


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