Seduced by the Royal Opera house’s promise that I would be “transported to an exotic world of noble warriors and cruel princesses”, I eagerly awaited the performance of La Bayadère. And if any word can be used to describe the performance it was definitely ‘transported’.
The plot concerns the relationship between Nikiya, the bayadère or temple dancer, and the warrior Solor who have sworn to be true to each other. In the true spirit of ballet however, their love is complicated and ultimately doomed to a melodramatic and tragic fate through the will of the gods and kings. Solor is selected to marry the Rajah’s daughter, Gamzatti who is driven by jealousy to get rid of Nikiya.
Set in India, La Baydère shows an exotic and divided world of crumbling Hindu temples and sumptuous royal courts. The first half swept by in a swirl of brightly coloured chiffon and muslin and by the end of it I realised that I has been sitting there with a stupid grin on my face though luckily I think that the rest of the audience had been as transfixed as I was and it went unnoticed. Because of the tantalizing end of the first act I was loathe to leave the dancers. There must be few intervals that have been spent in such an impatient and implosive desire for a second half.
I was not disappointed. In an opium induced haze Solor experiences bizarre visions set amongst the summits of the Himalayas. Known as the ‘Kingdom of the Shades’, the famous passage features thirty-two white tutu-clad dancers arabesqueing onto the stage, one of the most achingly beautiful scenes in any ballet. By the end of it, my arms were completely dead from leaning on the rail in front of me in order to gain a better view.
Once it was over, disorientation set in as I stepped out of the fantasy world contained in the red damask sphere of the Royal Opera House and on to the busy streets of London. La Bayadère is a light-as-fluff piece of exotic escapism and I loved every minute of it. If you are looking for something deeper and more profound however, I would recommend that you leave Minkus on the shelf.