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LA BAYADÈRE

 

choreography: Marius Petipa

music: Ludwig (Léon) Minkus

lighting design: Kevin Meek


 
 
Premiere of La Bayadère Maryinsky Theater, St. Petersburg, February 4, 1877
BalletMet Columbus premiere of The Kingdom of the Shades, March 12, 1998
These notes compiled by Gerard Charles, BalletMet Columbus, February 1998

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Motor impulse is basic to Petipa’s exposition of movement flowing clean from its source. It flows from the simple to the complex, but we are always aware of its source, deep in the dancer’s back, and of its vibration as it carries in widening arcs around the auditorium. This is dancing to be felt as well as seen, and Petipa gives it a long time to creep under our skins. Like a patient drillmaster, he opens the piece with a single, two-phrase theme in adagio tempo (arabesque cambré port de bras), repeated over and over until all the dancers have filed onto the stage. Then, at the same tempo, with the dancers facing us in columns, he produces a set of mild variations, expanding the profile of the opening image from two dimensions to three. Positions are developed naturally through the body’s leverage - weight, counterweight. Diagonals are firmly expressed....The choreography is considered to be the first expression of grand scale symphonism in dance, predating by seventeen years Ivanov’s masterly designs for the definitive Swan Lake....The subject of ‘The Kingdom of the Shades’ is not really death, although everybody in it except the hero is dead. It's Elysian bliss, and its setting is eternity. The long slow repeated-arabesque sequence creates the impression of a grand crescendo that seems to annihilate all time. No reason it could not go on forever......Ballets passed down the generations like legends, acquire patina of ritualism, but La Bayadère is a ritual, a poem about dancing and memory and time. Each dance seems to add something new to the previous one, like a language being learned. The ballet grows heavy with this knowledge, which at the beginning had been only a primordial utterance, and in the coda it fairly bursts with articulate splendor."

Arlene Croce
The New Yorker

 

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Ballet History


The fires of the French revolution had scarcely flickered out when the bright flame of the Romantic movement began to illuminate and transform the arts in Europe. The romantic movement in ballet was born in Paris on November 21, 1831. The occasion was the premiere of Mayerbeer’s opera Robert le diable which featured a ballet sequence in which white-clad ghosts of dead nuns rose from their tombs and danced a Valse infernale in eerie moonlight. Such an amazing success was this episode - it became overnight the talk of Paris - that the tenor, Adolphe Nourrit who was singing Count Robert, wrote a scenario for a new ballet with a supernatural story, La Sylphide and offered it to the choreographer of the Valse infernale, Filippo Taglioni. Taglioni’s daughter Marie, who had led the nuns in the opera ballet, created the lead role in La Sylphide. There followed a spate of ballets with supernatural themes of which the most famous was Giselle in 1842.

 

Petipa built his ballet La Bayadère on a strong Romantic base using his own brand of classical aesthetic. Typical of the Romantic period is the choice of exotic locale and the incorporation of ethereal beings. Petipa based La Bayadère on the Indian classics by Kalidasa, Sakuntala and The Cart of Clay. The Kingdom of the Shades seems to have been inspired by Gustav Doré’s illustrations for Dante’s Paradiso. The Kingdom of the Shades is notable in that it extended the frontiers of classical dance, providing an opportunity for the dancers to showcase their pointe technique with classical purity in contrast to the drama that surrounded it. It is regarded as the precursor of the white acts of Swan Lake and Fokine’s famous Les Sylphides. La Bayadère also contained monumental processional scenes including a live elephant and a tiger. (In reference to the opera Aida, La Bayadère was tagged "Giselle, East of Suez.") La Bayadère was first performed at the Maryinsky Theater, St. Petersburg, February 4, 1877.

Although Petipa enjoyed authority as sole ballet master of the St. Petersburg theaters mounting a new ballet was fraught with difficulties. La Bayadère was produced in a period when official policy discouraged the invitation of foreign ballerinas to Russia. Leading Russian dancers were the equivalent technically of their foreign counterparts but did not have the ability to attract the audiences. There were also scheduling problems with the Imperial Italian Opera which monopolized rehearsal time on stage and left only two performances a week for the ballet. The opera also spent a lot of money which placed fiscal restraint on the ballet by theater director Karl Karlovich. It is reported that Petipa and his régisseur spent six months showing artists their individual sections and could only put it all together once on stage. There was only one dress rehearsal.

Despite being a benefit performance for Ekaterina Vazem, with tickets being more expensive than for the opera, the first performance of La Bayadère played to a full house. At the end of the performance the audience applauded for more than half an hour. Among Mme Vazem’s gifts was a ruby broach studded with diamonds, from the public, and flowers from the opera star Adelina Patti. Reviews were uniformly complimentary although they did register complaints of Petipa’s license in dealing with historical facts. They also dwelt on the unavoidable mishaps that befall most first performances. For example in the ‘Kingdom of the Shades’ scene the appearance of a magic palace was mistimed and delayed until after Nikiya had turned to face it.

The original production of La Bayadère did not long survive Ekaterina Vazem’s retirement. Between the premiere and Vazem’s farewell February 17, 1884, it was given approximately 70 performances. Anna Johanson took over the lead role five times in the 1884-85 season. After the second act alone was performed in 1885, La Bayadère was dropped from the repertoire.


In 1900 a revival was mounted to mark the 40th anniversary of dancer Pavel Gerdt’s artistic career. He took the role of Solor in a largely unchanged production. The entrance of the Shades was presented on a darkened stage (originally it had been lit brilliantly), and the number of dancers expanded from 32 to 48. It appears that much of the music was shortened. Although the dancers received glowing reviews, Petipa’s choreography did not fare so well at this outing "perhaps more boring than long and uninteresting."

The ballet was first seen outside Russia (performed by the Kirov Ballet) in London, July 4, 1961 excerpted as The Kingdom of the Shades. it was during this tour that Nureyev defected to the West. Two years later he staged The Kingdom of the Shades for the Royal Ballet.

The full length ballet regained popularity with Nathalia Makarova’s sumptuous restaging of the work for the American Ballet Theatre in 1980.

 

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An understanding of ballet productions of the period


It is important to understand how ballets in this period were traditionally put together. The librettist (or author) would select a story or legend that suited his fancy and transpose it into a ballet in five or six acts, regardless of weather it had sufficient dramatic content to support this length. The librettist would also have little acquaintance with either the music, choreography or design. The sole requisite for success was that everything should center on one principal character to be interpreted by the prima ballerina; the slightest incident, the feeblest action, served as excuse for bringing in a dance.

 

Supernatural female creatures such as sylphs, wilis, shades, water nymphs and later swans, enjoyed great popularity. They appealed to the contemporary taste for idealized, fantasized womanhood and gave an opportunity for abstract choreography for the corps de ballet.

Next a composer was instructed to write the necessary music. It was usually the maître de ballet (choreographer) who set out how many dances were needed in each act, the types of music required (usually easily recognized marches, polkas or waltzes), their length, tempo and beat. If a particular location was indicated by the story, a liberal dose of appropriate national themes or instrumentation was included. The composer was seldom familiar with the libretto, so often the music was not a suitable match for the action. Since dance rehearsals were usually accompanied on the piano, the orchestral coloration of the music was seldom known before the first orchestra rehearsal. Therefore it was not uncommon for a large ensemble piece to be danced to airs lightly scored in the strings, and ethereal moments to be accompanied by the brass.

The maître de ballet tended to hang the dances on a framework, the style and sequence of which were based on established tradition. The prima ballerina must have her pas de deux with variations and coda, and there had to be at least one "pas d’action" for the dancer to display her abilities in mime. The premier danseur also was due his variation, and the corps de ballet had their "ballabiles" to give the principal characters a chance to rest and change costumes. It was also usual to introduce a number of "pas de caractère" for the soloists. It was also an important element to include processions for crowds who countermarched like soldiers, in geometric formations.

The scenery and costume designers also worked in a vacuum. Although knowledgeable in historic ornamentation and styles of architecture, the scenic designer’s chief concern was to provide a sense of richness and spaciousness no matter what the subject matter. In almost every ballet there was a lake-side scene, from which convention the members of the corps de ballet in the last row became known as "les ballerines près de l’eau". Convention also demanded that however historically correct the majority of the costumes were, the dancers had to wear a ballet skirt, pink maillot and rose colored ballet shoes. The dancers’ hairstyles always followed the prevailing fashion of the day, often decorated with a diamond tiara. The public saw nothing wrong in a dancer interpreting a humble peasant wearing jeweled bracelets or pearls.

Finally if the leading dancers liked the choreography, all was well and good. If not, the dance could be cut regardless of concern for musical flow, or a dance from another ballet could be inserted.


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The Story of the Complete Ballet


The ballet is set in legendary India. Nikiya, a bayadère or temple dancer, is in love with Solor, a noble warrior. However, the Rajah decides to marry his daughter Gamzatti to Solor; overwhelmed by her beauty, Solor forgets his vows of love to Nikiya. When the Rajah learns of Nikiya and Solor’s love from the High Brahmin (who is also in love with Nikiya), he decides to have the bayadère killed. Gamzatti tries to persuade Nikiya to give up Solor, but she refuses and attacks the princess who then also decides to have the bayadère killed.

 

Nikiya dances at the betrothal celebrations of Gamzatti and Solor. She is fatefully bitten by a poisonous snake hidden in a basket of flowers sent by the Rajah and Gamzatti.

Solor has an hallucinatory vision of Nikiya in the "Kingdom of the Shades". He tries to grasp her but she disappears. Later, at his wedding ceremony he is again haunted by the vision of Nikiya which he alone can see. The gods, infuriated by the killing of Nikiya, destroy the temple, killing everyone in it. The spirits of Nikiya and Solor are reunited in eternal love.


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Selected World Events Surrounding the Creation of La Bayadère

1876

  • Colorado becomes a state
  • Born: Jack London, Pablo Casals & Manuel de Falla
  • Opening of Bayreuth Festspielhaus with Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen
  • Delibes’ Ballet Sylvia premieres
  • Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone
  • Johns Hopkins University opens in Baltimore
  • First tennis tournament in U.S.
  • U.S. National Baseball League founded
  • World Exhibition at Philadelphia

1877

  • Rutherford B. Hayes president of U.S.
  • Queen Victoria proclaimed Empress of India
  • Francesca da Rimini, Tchaikovsky
  • Samson et Delila, Saint-Saëns
  • Edison invents the phonograph
  • First All-England Tennis championship played at Wimbledon
  • First public telephones in U.S.

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A select listing of various productions of La Bayadère


 

Forerunners of La Bayadère

Le dieu et la bayadère (Also known as The Maid of Cashmere)
Choreography: Filippo Taglioni
Music: Daniel-Francois-Esprit Auber

First performance: The Paris Opéra, Oct 13, 1830. This ballet-opera was based on Goethe’s ballad Der Gott und die Bajadere. The scenario was by Eugene Scribe. Danced by Marie Taglioni, it was considered one of her greatest triumphs. Also featured was tenor Adolphe Nourrit.

Sacountala
Choreography: Lucien Petipa
Music: Ernest Reyer
Libretto: Théophile Gautièr
First performance: Théâtre Impérial de l’Opéra, Paris,July 14, 1858

A Pantomimic ballet based on Kalidasa’s play of the same name. A source for Marius Petipa’s La Bayadère.

 

Selected versions of La Bayadère

La Bayadère (Baiaderka)
Choreography: Marius Petipa
Music: Ludwig (Léon) Minkus
Design: Piotr Lambkin, Konstantin Ivanov, Orest Allegri & Adolf Kwapp

First performance: Maryinsky Theater, St. Petersburg, February 4, 1877 with Ekaterina Vazem as Nikiya, Maria Gorshenkova as Gamzatti and Lev Ivanov as Solor(mime) and Pavel Gerdt (pas de deux).

La Bayadère (Baiaderka)
Choreography: Aleksandr Gorski & Vasilii Tikhomirov
Music: Ludwig (Léon) Minkus
Scenery Design: Konstantin Korovin
First performance: Bolshoi Ballet, Moscow, January 31, 1904.

La Bayadère (Baiaderka)
Choreography: Agrippina Vaganova after Petipa
Music: Ludwig (Léon) Minkus
Design: Piotr Lambkin, Konstantin Ivanov, Orest Allegri & Adolf Kwapp
First performance: Kirov Ballet, December 13, 1932.

 Bayadère with a Yellow Mask (la bajadera dalla mashera gialla)
Choreography: Cia Fonaroli
Music: Francesco Santoliquido
First performance: Compagnia dei Balletti de San Remo, February 27, 1933.

La Bayadère
Choreography: Vakhtang Chabukiani & Vladimir Ponomaryov after Petipa
Music: Ludwig (Léon) Minkus
Scenery Design: Piotr Lambkin, Konstantin Ivanov, Orest Allegri & Adolf Kvapp
First performance: Kirov Ballet, Leningrad, February 10, 1941 with Nathalia Dudinskaya as Nikia and Chabukiani as Solor.

La Bayadère
Choreography: Natalie Conus
Music: Ludwig (Léon) Minkus arr. Robin Barker
Scenery: Theo Lau
Costumes: Homa Partovi
First performance: Iranian National Ballet Company, 1972-73 season.

La Bayadère
Choreography: Andrew de Groat
Music: Alan Lloyd
First performance: Compagnie Andy De Groat, Vaulx-en-Velin, 1988.

La Bayadère
Choreography: Natalia Makarova after Petipa
Music: Ludwig (Léon) Minkus orchestrated by John Lanchbery
Scenery: Pier Luigi Samaritani
Costumes: Theoni V. Aldredge
First performance: American Ballet Theatre, New York, May 21, 1980. Restaged for The Royal Ballet with costumes by Yolanda Sonnabend, May 18, 1989.

La Bayadère
Choreography: Oleg Vinogradov after Petipa
Music: Ludwig (Léon) Minkus
First performance: Kirov Ballet, Teatro di Verdura, Palermo, July 1990.

La Bayadère
Choreography: Yuri Grigorovich after Petipa
Music: Ludwig (Léon) Minkus
First performance: Bolshoi Ballet, Moscow, November 17, 1991.

La Bayadère
Choreography: Rudolf Nureyev after Petipa
Music: Ludwig (Léon) Minkus
Scenery: Ezio Frigerio
Costumes: Franca Squarciapino
First performance: Paris Opera Ballet, Paris, October 8, 1992.

Excerpts

La Bayadère Act IV (Bajaderu enas)
Choreography: Sergeyev after Petipa
Music: Ludwig (Léon) Minkus
First performance: Riga Opera Ballet, Riga, Latvia. 1923.

Le Reve du Radjah
Choreography: Nicolai Sergeyev
Costumes: Konstantin Korovine
First performance: Russian Ballet, Bournemouth Pavilion, England, March 5, 1934.

La Bayadère Act IV
Choreography: Rudolf Nureyev after Petipa
Music: Ludwig (Léon) Minkus
First performance: Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, November 27, 1963 with Fonteyn and Nureyev.

La Bayadère Act IV (Bayaderka)
Choreography: Eugen Valukin after Petipa
Music: Ludwig (Léon) Minkus
First performance: National Ballet of Canada, Toronto, March 27, 1967.

La Bayadère Act IV
Choreography: Natalia Makarova after Petipa
Music: Ludwig (Léon) Minkus
Costumes: Marcos Paredes
First performance: American Ballet Theatre, New York, July 3, 1974

 

"The Kingdom of the Shades" was also incorporated into The Corsair choreographed by Wazlaw Orlikowsy for the Zagreb Ballet, 1975. Given the ease with which the Russian ballet used various bits of music, selections from La Bayadère have shown up in a variety of Russian ballets including Don Quixote.

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