Minkus: La Bayadere (Blu Ray) [Blu-ray] (Version française)
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Svetlana Zakharova, Alexei Loparevich and Maria Alexandrova are among the lead dancers in the Bolshoi Ballet's production of Marius Pepita's ballet, recorded live in January 2013. Set in India, the ballet tells the story of Nikia (Zakharova), a beautiful young dancer who pledges her love to a mighty warrior. However, her heart's desires do not fit with the plans of powerful figures in her society and the Rajah (Loparevich) comes up with a deadly scheme to prevent the marriage.
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I had once believed it was simply a bad story, not any dancer's or choreographer's fault.
Then years later I read about the positive reviews of this release, thought I should give another try. And WOW! I love it! It is so beautiful and touching. Lantratov's Solor finally gives me some sense about this character: he does love Nikiya, only he isn't kind of a spiritually lover, so is easily drawn away by the extraordinary beautiful and alluring Gamzatti who is portrayed very convincingly by Alexandrova. Solor is not heartless either. He actually intended to reject his engagement with Gamzatti, but stunned by her beauty once seeing her. That says Solor is not surrendering to power but rather his own fickleness in love. (I doubt if Solor will ever remain faithful to Gamzatti, because he is still thinking of Nikiya's beauty during his engagement ceremony.) He isn't a bad guy, he just didn't know his fickleness and betrayal to Nikiya's love would bring her death. He maybe a brave warrior, but is definitely weak in heart as oppose to Nikiya's determination and firmness. His heartbreaking and grievous remorse is truthful after Nikiya's death.
Zakharova makes her Nikiya such a unique heroine in classical ballet. She enters with extreme elegance and pride. Her sacred dance is holy, pure and emotionless. She rejects the High Brahmin's pursuit and accuses his misbehavior without mercy. She smiles only when meets with Solor. I can understand her solitary life at temple, Solor is probably the only joy in her life. I can too understand her naiveness to actually believe in Solor's loyalty. These all happen in the first scene, which are good foreshadowing of Nikiya's later intransigency and violent reaction towards Gamzatti - she couldn't bear to lose Solor, her only joy in life!
Alexandrova is a terrific Gamzatti - graceful, beautiful, smart, arrogant, spoiled, must get whatever she wants and cruel. All three principal dancers make the whole story convincing and touching. Of course Grigorovich, the Choreographer contributes most to it.
All three leads, supporting roles and the entire corps de ballet dance really well. Zakharova is the most celebrated ballerina today, she has the most impeccable technique, beautiful long extensions and charms. And she is as light as a feather, so divine! Lantratov is a young rising star at Bolshoi, too has impeccable technique, great partnering skills and charms (and high jumps and fast turns!). He dances with both powerfulness and elegancy. Alexandrova is also a principal at Bolshoi with great techniques. Wow, aren't they too many great dancers at Bolshoi? Not to mention Savichev who dances Magedaveya, the lead fakir.
Act III, the white ballet scene, is my favorite, I can watch it again and again and again and never be bored. I am touched by the sorrow of Nikiya and Solor and excited by the brilliant performance of Zakharova and Lantratov. Nikiya and Solor had only one short pas de deux in Act I. The longer one is here in Act III. (BTW, there's a terrific pas de duex of Gamzatti and Solor in Act II.) Act III fulfills my dream of both seeing perfect pas de deux and corps de ballet (as Giselle does). Someone has already said a lot about the wonderful performance of Bolshoi corps de ballet in this scene, so I won't repeat.
Two last things to say - the costumes and stage sets are beautiful, the orchestra is wonderful. This ballet is my most watched ballet now, and no doubt I will watch it many many times more in the future. Truly truly love it!
Following is added on 12/11//2014:
I know it's already a long review. But I had always wondered why other versions of La Bayadere won't touch me the same. After watching the ballet one more time last night I realized it is the masterly way of storytelling. As some have noticed, this version of La Bayadere is missing Act IV, which tells us all bad buys eventually get punished (died) when the ceremony hall collapsed during Solor and Gamzatti's wedding; Nikiya and Solor finally reunited in Heaven. For me, Act IV is the key problem here, it violates Solor's good images (all his remorses and love to Nikiya) and makes him a real heartless person (think of him returning to Gamzatti after knowing she has killed Nikiya). It even makes less sense that Solor finally meets Nikiya in Heaven (does he deserves it after betraying Nikiya once again?).
For me good dancing and sets aren't enough to make a good ballet, it has to move me too. Choreographer Grigorovich is the master of storytelling. He won't tell you in a direct way but you feel what he tries to say. Without Act IV, Grigorovich's story ends in Act III: Solor not only remorses with sincerity, but also discovers his true love. He realizes Gamzatti's cruelty behind her beauty. He'd rather stay in the Kingdom of the Shadows (a Kingdom created in his illusion) than going back to her. He realizes his true love is always Nikiya and transforms to a spiritual lover. In the Kingdom of the Shadows, their love is ever stronger. In finally variations, both Zakharova and Lantratov dance in such a forceful way as if they are claiming their love with determination. The last scene: she vanishes but leaves her love with him; he collapses to the ground as if he will forever remorse for losing his Nikiya (his own punishment in the way). It ends the story perfectly.
I go into all this detail as some reviews end up in the wrong File Heading. Also if you have had exposure to other discs of Bayadere you may find things here not encountered in other currently available productions.
On the positive side, this is a beautiful production. The sets are quite attractive and vaguely "oriental", the costumes quite appropriate and the dancing by the stars, soloists and corps absolutely first rate. Ms. Zakharova is exquisite and unmatched in her performance of Nikiya. It is however emotionless. M. Latratov's Solor is masculine, athletic and impeccably acrobatic but his face never changed with the change of partners. Ms. Alexandrova's Gamzetti was wily and seductive. She was the only one to put some living face on to this complex love story.
In addition to what is in this day and age considered what is to be included in a performance of Bayadere, some dusty remnants of past eras were also incorporated. These included the floor athletic exercises of the Fakirs round-the-table (or the fire pot that wouldn't stay lighted), the black-face antics of some of the featured dancers and Dance Manu another acrobatic show off of athleticism. Neither these nor a couple of other extraneous additions contributed to the wholeness of the story of the ballet.
There are two other top rate productions of Bayadere that are available on disc (I have seven versions in total). They are the Royal Opera House produced by Nataly Makarova after the Mariinsky (St. Petersburg) and the older Paris Opera Ballet with the redaction by Rudolph Nureyev. In the Paris Isabelle Guerin dances beautifully and mimes the emotions she is feeling. Her inconstant lover Solor , Laurent Hillaire shows some hot-blood emotion for his two partners and Elizabeth Platel is quite explicit about what she thinks of her rival Nikiya. The Royal version I like best is the one with Aldynai Asylmuratova , Irek Mukhamedov and Darcy Bussel ( a great favorite of mine) is a real nasty rival.
With all the added material, the Bolshoi production did not include the last act with the destruction of the Temple which I feel rounds out the story. It is included the the Royal's production under Makarova's direction.
But all this carping and unfavorable remarks are banished and all is forgiven when it comes to the Bolshoi's "Kingdom of the Shades". This was Petipa's brilliant choreographic coup that still thrills ballet lovers. (A "ballet blanc" had been done a decade or so earlier by Adam in "Giselle"). In Bayadere Petipa has the corps do a "ballet blanc" by a "defile" of the corps coming on stage down a ramp one by one executing an arabesque penchee followed by a back bend and so continuing until there are 32 on stage. Then they continue a mesmerizing set of movements. This is among the most awesome moments in all ballet and Bolshoi does it beautifully.
Svetlana Zakhaorva the best ballerina currently? I would not disagree, having watched her two versions of Nikita, this Bolshoi and the other La Scala, she is not merely technically perfect, but dramatically very convincing as the strong-willed and tragic sacred dancer. Her movements are ethereal and gripping, and she makes each and every move with a dramatic purpose, either explaining the story or depicting an emotion. The body language is simply eloquent.
Partnering such a legend makes real challenge. The other two leads are also spectacular.
As the rival of Nikita, Alexandrova's princess is regal, proud and unscrupulous. An equally determined character that makes life for the hero, Solor, really difficult. However, and this is a big caveat that for this reviewer takes out an entire star from this otherwise perfect production - the missing out of the final Act in which the two rivals vie for the hand and love of Solor, one alive, one dead.
As the hero Solor, young Bolshoi principal Vladislav Lantratov tells audience in no time that he is one of the focal points in the internationl ballet scene, since the great Rudolf Nureyev and Nicolai Tsiskaridze. Lantratov is by far more convincing and alive than Roberto Biolle in the La Scala production, also available on DVD. Young and impulsive, this Solor is caught between two loves and an obligation. He actually failed to honour any of these, and at the end of this production, he blacks out from a dream of Nikita, his jilted love.
May be Bolshoi's producer had in mind a more modernly acceptable ending for this ballet, but in abridging the finale and missing out the final Act, he/she deprived the audience of a dramatically intense and emotionally powerful final trio between Solor and his two 'women'. The Bolshoi audience missed a great chance to view the terrific dancings of the three great leads.
I can only wish that in future (which hopefully will not be too far off), Bolshoi will release a COMPLETE version of La Bayadere.
La Bayadere is a story of morals, integrity and consequences. Many believe that Solor fails Nikiya because he is bedazzled by Gamzatti's beauty, but he actually fears for his life and Nikiya's. If he refuses the gift of the Rajah of his own daughter's hand to the throne it will cost him his life. If they find that a virgin from the temple is having an affair it will cost both their lives. He accepts Gamzatti to protect both his life, Nikiyah and their forbiden love. He will be forever haunted by that desicion and believe himself guilty of Nikiya's death as he never finds out that both Gamzatti and the Rajah order Nikiya's death.
The last act was dropped in 1917 because recreating an earthquake on stage was too complex for the scenery changes and not convincing enough at that moment in history. The tradition of that choreography was lost in history and is why it is not present in Russian productions. Makarova's revision re-incorpoeates the last act and complete's the story, though using her own creativity as there was no one alive at this point that remembered the original choreography for this last act.
In the last act Solor has been forgiven by Nikiyah in the Kingdom of the Shades, but his real love is Nikiyah and having lost her nothing matters to him anymore. Gamzatti is the one who carries guilt now for her crime. Nikiya's death haunts her and in her mind she believes her spirit will always follow her and Solor. During the wedding she is the only one who sees Nikiya's spirit who will forever protect her lover Solor. Gamzatti begs her father, the Rajah, to call off the wedding. The Rajah's pride is above him and he refuses to be embarrassed in front of everyone so he orders Gamzatti to continue with the wedding. The gods become angry with the main characters' base morals and when the wedding comes to the moment when the union is being blessed there is a great earthquake and everyone is killed crushed by the crumbling and falling temple.
In the epilogue Nikiya receives Solor in the afterlife, but the gods impose a punishment on him for his weaknesses. The law of Karma dictates that the pain he inflicted on Nikiya and his lack of courage to confront the consequences of their love merit a punishment to purify his soul before they can be together in eternity. His punishment is he cannot touch her. In his eyes she becomes a sacred being. His eyes will worship her as if she was a goddess until his soul is pure and they can cross the tunel towards the light.
I hope this helps bring light to the very complex and sometimes misunderstood story.