14 January 2009

La Bayadere - Royal Ballet@ The Royal Opera House - Monday 19th Januarh 2009


A bayadère (temple dancer), Nikiya is an innocent and beautiful girl. She is in love with Solor, a young captain serving the Rajah. The High Brahmin, who is also in love with Nikiya, is seeking a chance to make her his own. The Rajah's daughter Gamzatti, loves Solor, and they are betrothed. When Gamzatti finds out that Solor loves not her but Nikiya, she sends the bayadere a basket of flowers containing a poisonous snake, which bites her. The High Brahmin offers Nikiaya the antidote in return for an admission of love from her but she refuses and dies. Her spirit descends to the Kingdom of the Shades. Solor takes opium and follows her but, awakened from the dream, goes to the temple in search of her - only to find that Gamzatti, the Rajah and the High Brahmin are waiting for him as the wedding ceremony starts. A vision of Nikiya appears to Solor and he pledges true love to her. The gods are angered and destroy the temple, killing all within. Nikiya's spirit leads Solor's spirit to the Abode of the Blessed, where they are reunited.

Interviews with the principal dancers and Natalia Makarova (Choreographer, hamming it up in deliciously fruity Russian tones) plus stills from the production and short extracts. Trivia note for balletomanes (which I never knew) - the dancers in the famous "Entrance of the Shades" in act 3 represent the coils of smoke coming from Solor's opium pipe.

Nikiya – Tamara Rojo
Solor – Carlos Acosta
Gamzatti – Marianela Nunez
High Brahmin – Gary Avis
Rajah – Christopher Saunders
Magadyeva [“Mags” to his mates] the Fakir – Kenta Kuro
Ayah – Genesia Rosato
Golden Idol – Jose Martin
First Shade – Yuhui Choe
Second Shade – Helen Crawford
Third Shade – Hikrau Kobashi

Forget your over-conceptualised Swan Lakes and buggered-about with Nutcrackers. Give me a good Bayadere - as long as its the "proper" version that rounds the story off with the roof of the temple falling in and everyone dying - and I'm a happy man. If there are dancing women with parrots, an elephant and a "spesh act"* in the wedding procession, so much the better but I can live without them as long as I get plenty of death at the end.

What I like about this ballet is its spectacle – there’s lots of colour and pageantry and sparkly costumes. I’m easily pleased. This production has lots of all of it (but unfortunately no parrots).

There were some fairly acid reviews of this on the opening night, and I’m pleased to report that most of the problems seem to have been sorted out. Marianela Nunez was back this evening in the role of Gamzatti, and some of the staging problems reported didn’t appear that obvious. I did notice, however, that several of the pas de huit dancers seemed to have trouble in finding the middle line of the stage, making a couple of their dances extremely wonky and off-centre. Nothing major though.

I have to agree with some of the criticism of Carlos Acosta. I’ve never really rated him as a classical dancer; OK, he’s been excellent in some of the non-classical stuff I’ve seen him in, but a lot of his lines seemed unfinished in this production and it looked a lazy performance in consequence. He came across as being rather emotionally absent as well – while Nikiya and Gamzatti are emoting all over the shop, all he seems to be able to manage is a somewhat smug blankness. OK, Solor isn’t Hamlet, but I don’t think his face broke into a smile once the entire evening. Tamara Rojo was born to play the title role – she’s tiny and lithe and capable of expressing great emotion on stage, and she’s a fantastic technician. Everything looks so easy when she does it, which is the mark of greatness. Marianela Nunez is also excellently cast as the proud Princess Gamzatti, stalking about the stage like a haughty panther in Act 1, then confident and shimmering in the garden scene when she does all her variations. Come Act 3, however, her sudden transition from sex-kitten to bewildered, spoilt child, taking refuge in Daddy’s arms when things go AWOL, is a joy to watch.

Lovely, lovely scenery and costumes throughout, although I do often wonder why its necessary for Nikiya to change her outfit at every conceivable opportunity. Gamzatti can get away with wearing a different frock for different appearances (she is a Rajah’s daughter, after all, and a wet dream for the likes of Gok Wan) but a humble bayadere wouldn’t have that many togs, surely? The Ayah costume, however, needs a bit of a rethink in my opinion, as it makes the poor bitch wearing it look like a wet crow, basically, particularly as the role is one of those awful “non-roles” meted out to clapped out members of the company to give them something to do as they approach retirement.

The opening of The Kingdom of the Shades act was sublime – there is no other word for it. I’ve put a YouTube clip of it at the bottom of this entry so that you can indulge yourself – be warned that its 8 minutes or so long. I could watch it for ever. There was a Silence** in the House as the scene progressed – one of the few of the evening as otherwise the place sounded like a TB ward with people coughing and hacking their lungs out. But politely. This is the ROH, you know.

The evening wasn’t entirely without incident. We were a few seats away from a completely mad woman who had not only seen another performance of this ballet about four days ago, but who had booked herself two seats for this one; in case the view from one of them wasn’t good enough, she could go and sit in the other one, she announced. There was an awful crash backstage at one point – loud enough to be heard clearly by us sitting in the cheap seats about ¾ of a mile from the stage, so it must have been deafening from the stalls. Maybe it was the ROH Chief Executive’s wallet falling on the floor. In Act 2, during one of the Shade Variations, some idiot's phone went off loudly (now, a rant. I know that people get obsessed with their phones and cannot live without them. But announcements are made at the start of each performance asking people to turn them off – and anyway, how effing slow do you have to be to remember to turn them off in the theatre anyway??) and, later, during a big pas de deux, something came off Ms Rojo’s tutu and went tinkle tinkle tinkle tinkle tinkle across the floor, making a heck of a lot of noise for something so tiny. At the end, the collapsing temple failed to collapse (extremely disappointing as I do like the odd polystyrene boulder crashing to the floor every now and again). And just as I was settling down for a damn good clap at the very end as the principals came on for their solo calls, Him Indoors starts scrabbling for his coat and making “come on, let’s be off” gruntings. This is exactly what happens when we’re watching a film – as soon as the credits start to roll, off goes the DVD player, and by heck is it irritating. Next time I get dragged to something pompous, I’ll be trying the same trick and watching the effect.
And no parrots. Damn

* Spesh Act - Luvvie-speak for "Speciality Act" - essentially outsiders shipped into a theatre company to perform something outside the capability of the rest of the cast. For instance, in The Boyfriend (a musical comedy), the "Spesh" are a pair of dancers who perform in a scene in the last act. Its a longstanding joke that the "Spesh" in Bayadere perform the wild "Native Dance" which appears as part of the entertainment for guests arriving for the betrothal ceremony. Of course, they are not strictly "spesh" as they are company members, but the fact that they are gyrating all over the stage dressed in very little, in contrast to the rest of the company who are doing classical ballet and togged up accordingly is enough to qualify them as "spesh". Unfortunately, this version does without this particular dance. It also does without the parrots, which I believe I have already mentioned elsewhere.

** Silence – not the absence of noise, which is merely silence. A Silence is when the entire audience is concentrating furiously to the extent that people forget to cough or fidget about and are totally immersed on what is happening on stage. Rarely experienced. Previously defined as “the sound that black velvet would make if it could”, but Him Indoors seems to find this definition extremely funny and worthy of Zippy from Rainbow.

What the critics said:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2009/jan/18/la-bayadere-royal-opera-house (I love the last paragraph of this describing Nikiya's last scene!)




Couldn't resist the opportunity to include a clip of my favourite ballet scene ever -the Entrance of the Shades - performed here by the Bolshoi Ballet

God bless YouTube - Parrots, the elephant AND the spesh act!

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