Monday, December 21, 2015

Paris Opéra Ballet: Rudolph Nureyev’s La Bayadère

With its gorgeous sets and lavish, jewel toned costumes, Opéra Bastille became a portal to an exotic and mysterious new world in Rudolph Nureyev’s La Bayadère.

Opéra Bastille, home of La Bayadère
The sweeping dance, intriguing characters and grand score by Ludwig Minkus all combined with the talents of the Paris Opéra Ballet to tell the tragic tale of love between temple dancer (la bayadère) Nikiya and the warrior Solor.

When Gamzatti, the daughter of the Rajah, who is also betrothed to Solor, discovers her future husband loves another, she swears vengeance and plots the death of Nikiya. At their extravagant engagement celebration, Nikiya must dance for all their invited guests. She is given a basket of flowers, which she believes is from Solor, but unbeknownst to her, Gamzatti put a poisonous snake amongst the blossoms. When Nikiya is fatally bitten, she dies helplessly in Solor’s arms.

Solor then has an apparition of Nikya’s spirit in the ballet’s most famous act, The Kingdom of Shades. In this vision, the two lovers are able to be happy together for a brief moment before the dream ends and Solor is alone.

This production is truly a full company affair as it features many students from the Ballet School of the Opéra National de Paris in supporting roles at the betrothal celebration. No doubt it is an exciting opportunity for the students to perform alongside seasoned company members and I’m sure emotions and nerves were high as they took to the stage. They rose to the occasion and grew more and more confidant with each variation; the small slips in timing, stiff arms and heavy landings will sort themselves out in time and it’s safe to say the future of the company is in good hands.

There’s a reason The Kingdom of Shades is the most famous act of this ballet – it is an absolutely exquisite piece of ensemble ballet. One by one, the spirits file onstage - with their legs and arms for days - descending from a ramp in simple walks, graceful port de bras, and beautiful, sustained arabesques. As more and more dancers enter, the dancers form crisscrossing lines by changing directions and the effect of controlled extensions in perfect unison is utterly mesmerizing. This continues for several minutes until the entire corps de ballet is onstage and then they perform a pristine center adage, beginning with a gorgeous, sky-high developée in second position. It’s interesting to note The Kingdom of Shades act was traditionally performed independently as its own one-act ballet, dating back to its premiere performance in 1903 at Peterhof Palace in Russia.

Rudolph Nureyev’s La Bayadère is a special production for the Paris Opéra Ballet since it was created especially for the company when Nureyev was the Artistic Director in the early 1990s. Its 1992 production was even critically acclaimed and won many awards, which makes it even more bittersweet since it was Nureyev’s last ballet before his death three months after it premiered.

Going to this performance on November 20th was the first time my husband and I had been back into Paris since the November 13 attacks. It’s worth mentioning extra security measures have been added to both Palais Garnier and Opéra Bastille and they provide the necessary reassurance to patrons to be able to enjoy the performances.  

But beyond the extra metal detectors and security guards, the biggest reassurance for me was to see the theatre packed with an excited and appreciative audience and to feel the dancers and musicians feed on their energy. Great art and beauty are always being celebrated in this incredible city, no matter what else occurs, be it the death of a beloved ballet master or an attack on Paris itself. It was very moving to witness the dancers and musicians performing with such passion and I can’t think of a better way to than that to honor the unconquerable spirit of the French.

The curtain will rise again in 2016 and I can’t wait to see what new joys will be presented in this magnificent city of dance, art and culture.

May there be peace and happiness in the New Year for all. Joyeux Fêtes!

The curtain will always rise again
Rudolph Nureyev's La Bayadère runs at Opéra Bastille until December 31, 2015. For more information, visit the Paris Opéra Ballet's website. 

For other posts on the Paris Opéra Ballet 2015-2016 season, check out:

Anne-Teresa De Keersemaeker from November 2015

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