Classical ballet, as we know it, was shaped in 19th century St Petersburg, under the hand of Marius Petipa. He it was that turned ballet into a grand spectacle of tree or more scenes, with ballerinas in action in their circling skirts and pointed shoes. La Bayadere being one of the maestro’s works, still alive today.
With Petipa, this is the only piece nostalgic for romantic ballet and the Paris of his youth. The revised redaction by Toomas Edur and Jevgeni Neff, with various side themes and choreographic embellishments discarded, centres on the core of it – the tragic love story of soldier Solor and temple dancer Nikiya.
Dreams, forgetfulness and nirvana
On the one hand, this is a step towards the contemporary public (as also expressed by Mr Edur in the brochure). On the other hand, this is a return to the romantic ballet of the beginning of the 19th century.
The latter coming in two scenes: first in the real world – in La Bayadere’s case the mysterious India – and the second scene in the supernatural world – In La Bayadere the dream in the kingdom of Shades, where the lovers meet again. Thus, hitting two sparrows with one stone, today has been reached via the past – Petipa.
The structure, sequence of scenes, introduction of the characters and, especially, the finales of both parts, recall one of La Sylphide and Giselle. The arabesque decent of shadows, in the second scene coming across as mystical as the spirits of Giselle – still, like the sylphs, they are friendly and neutral.
Also characterising romantic ballet are the two rivalling ladies of La Bayadere: the main heroine and raja’s daughter Gamzatti, also desiring Solor to be her husband. The first scene is all action, with passions flaring, causing the death of Nikiya. The second scene is permeated with cantilenic grief over love lost, carrying – citing the Moscow dance historian Vadim Gajevsky – the rhythms of dreams, forgetfulness and nirvana, by which Petipa offers his chorographical formula of happiness.
Romantic indeed is the Nikiya danced by Nanae Maruyama, graphically dignified and elegant, with movements as gentle and airy as those of Sylphide, her death scene carrying the horror of Giselle's insanity and the hopelessness of the perishing of Sylphide.
Her rival Gamzatti, danced by Luana Georg, in turn, is an embodiment of the Petipa era forceful, headstrong and power hungry woman, not one to give up her desires.
Ladies lead, the men follow after
Petipa’s ballets are centred on women, men rather at the sidelines. Solor the soldier, like Albert of Giselle, is unable, at the right moment, to stand for his beloved, thereby losing her. Sergei Upkin, convincing and unstressed in his performance, still is overshadowed by the ladies.
The grotesque, almost witch-like fakirs and the virtuoso and precise temple god of Bruno Micchiardi reveal the mastery of the men in the troupe. The tiny gods trailing the latter revealing deepening ties with the ballet school.
Add the abundant dances of the first scene, the impeccable lining up of the female shadows of the second one, the colourful scenery, tender lights, the beautiful costumes – and La Bayadere is established in the national ballet’s trend of offering tasteful entertainment in a pleasant atmosphere.
Ballet: La Bayadere by Ludwig Minkus
Original choreography: Marius Petipa
Revised choreography: Toomas Edur
Conductor: Risto Joost
Art director: Peter Docherty
Lights: Tiit Urvik
Nikiya: Nanae Maruyama
Premiere in theatre Estonia, May 16th