Saturday, 17 January 2009

La Bayadere (The Temple Dancer)

Thursday 15th January 2009

It's mid-Jaunary. The lustre of the Christmas holidays seems long behind us, ominous "thundersnow" looms on the horizon and one of Degas's Petite danseur bronze's comes up for auction at a very well-out-of-reach estimate of £12m. Anyway, where would I put it ?

What's needed is a diversion, and the sights and smells of faux India, Fakirs, candle dancers and The Bronze Idol seem just the ticket right now.

Enter Nikiya, the Bayadere of the title.

This is the 97th performance of La Bayadere by the Royal Ballet, with extra coaching this time by, among others, Olga Evreinoff. The company have been struggling under the weight of injuries all season, but to everyone's relief the intended cast were all duly fit and asembled for this performance - which was being filmed. Carlos Acosta, the Royal's Principal Guest Artist (Extraordinaire) is under contract to Decca, the first dancer to do so, and a future DVD release is planned.

There was a definate crackle in the air at curtain-up; the House was packed and the audience expectant.

Tamara Rojo was exceptional as the low-born temple dancer Nikiya, in a totally unforgiving costume. Tamara has the most expressive feet and though her pointe shoes were noisier than usual, my eyes were drawn to her beautiful feet time and again. Dancing Nikiya involves stylised movements akin to temple dancers and a great deal of rehearsal time is given over to perfecting the greetings and poses which are unique to this ballet. It's not a showy part, Gamzatti gets the dazzling choreography, but it takes a rare talent to show Nikiya's purity through dance and Tamara has that in spades (or should that be spears ?).

Carlos Acosta, as the noble warrior Solor, bursts onto the stage with characterisic brauva. No introductions required. Carlos perfectly mimes the scene following a successful tiger hunt, keeping a straight face despite the toy tiger paraded on stage. His dancing is breathtaking, his landings soundless despite the height of his jumps, and all taken at his usual rapid pace. The audience went wild after his solo, hooting and shouting so much it must have been difficult for Carlos to remain in character.

Marianela Nunez, freshly returned from injury, dances the Rajah's daughter Gamzatti, who, as a high-born, is destined to marry Solor. He has already plighted his troth to Nikiya, so trouble ahead. Marianela's dancing is always clean and technically precise, and she dances Gamzatti with a devil-may-care authority which is uniquely her own. I'm so pleased she was back for this performance and that all of the leads have their dancing captured for posterity.

The High Brahmin, played magnetically by Gary Avis, wants Nikiya for himself, but is rejected. Gary is a very fine dancer, which is not seen in this role, but even in Character roles he commands the stage at every turn. He shares with Carlos very expressive hands which capture and hold your attention.

Gamzatti's servant Aya is responsible for handing Nikiya the flower basket which contains the snake which will bite her, as she is forced to dance at the betrothal of Solor and Gamzatti. Tamara manages to dance this sad and emotive solo, constantly looking at Solor in disbelief. She rejects the antidote given to her by the High Brahmin as she sees Solor leave with Gamzatti. Her death will come to haunt Solor.

Act 11 is famous in it's own right as the Kingdom of the Shades. 24 visions of Nikiya slowly appear before us, all dressed in white tutu's, while Solor is under the unfluence of some strong opiates.

The Lead Shade was perfection itself - she is not mentioned specifically on the cast sheet and so one can only guess at her identity. The hypnotic trance-like images are only achieved through exacting technical precision and hours of rehearsal. Yuhui Choe, as one of the three shades, knocked spots off everyone onstage, and Helen Crawford is growing in confidence through every performance in her new rank of soloist.

In Act 111 Jose Martin, as the Bronze Idol, has a ball with the choreography which he can do in his sleep. Where would the company be without him ? The gold body paint is as eye-catching as it's intended to be; after all he is the poster-boy for this ballet.

There were some technical glitches - the final scenes of the temple collapsing were not as dramatic as I've seen before. Perhaps changes were made to accommodate the camera's - there was much more strobe lighting and less falling rocks this time and maybe that is easier to capture on the small screen.

Three hours later and the diversion has worked it's magic again.