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Ludwig MINKUS (1826-1917) (arr. John Lanchberry, after Marius Petipa)
La Bayadère - (Ballet in three acts)
Nikiya…Altynia Asylmuratova
Solor…Irek Mukhamedov
Gamzatti…Darcy Bussell
The Bronze Idol…Tetsuya Kumakawa
The High Brahman…Anthony Dowell
The Rajah…David Drew
Artists of the Royal Ballet
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/John Lanchberry
Recorded at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1991
TDK DVD DV-BLLB [123 mins]

Natalia Makarova’s production of La Bayadère (The Temple Dancer) for the London Royal Ballet was originally created in 1980 for the American Ballet Theatre. The original Marius Petipa Bayadère ballet was produced for the Kirov Theatre and in 1992, a year after the filming of this Royal Opera House production, Nureyev would produce his own choreography at the Paris Opera, also based on Petipa’s version.

La Bayadère is set in India. Solor the brave hero, is loved by temple dancer Nikiya who in turn is lusted after by the High Brahman. But Solor is seduced away from Nikiya by the charms of Gamsatti, the Rajah’s daughter. When Nikiya is required to dance at their engagement party, she cannot hide her feelings for the fickle-hearted Solor. Realising she has a dangerous rival, Gamsatti has Nikiya killed. In the second Act Solor overcome with remorse sinks into an opium dream and sees a vision of his lost Nikiya. Afterwards, in Act III, he enters the temple for his marriage with Gamsatti and again he sees the shades of Nikiya. The gods, furious about the assassination of Nikiya, destroy the temple. Everybody perishes but the spirits of Nikiya and Solor are reunited.

The ballet has a strong part not only for a leading ballerina but also for the supporting role of Gamsatti, played here by Darcey Bussell and it was for her that the audience reserved their loudest applause at the end of the production. Makarova’s choreography was beautifully conceived for the lead roles and her two leading ladies did her proud. Both Asylmuratova and Bussell were supremely graceful and elegant. Irek Mukhamedov’s Solor was a consistent delight, strong, svelte - and those leaps and pirouettes! Almost stealing the third act was the extraordinary Bronze Idol gymnastics of Tetsuya Kumakawa. The men of the corps de ballet were very good. But the Act I Scene 2 D’Jampe female corps de ballet was poorly co-ordinated and the dancers looked uncomfortable with the exotic choreography. They were much more comfortable in classical toutous and figures of the Act II dances.

Set designs were rather too dark, especially in the opening and concluding scenes around the temple. One of the difficulties with video close-ups is that the pictures can reveal things normally unnoticed in the auditorium. Asylmuratova is a very slim lady and in one of her more voluptuous exotic Act I dances, her rib cage and hollow armpits were rather disconcertingly on view; surely it might have been kinder for wardrobe department to have designed a more flattering costume such as a little bolero jacket. The costumes for the ladies corps de ballet in Pas d’action, scene three, Act I, were not at all flattering either.

From the point of view of this site, there is no mention whatsoever of the composer Ludwig Minkus in the notes. My researches inform that Léon Aloisius Ludwig Minkus was born in Vienna in 1826 and specialised in ballet music. He collaborated with Delibes on La Source in Paris in 1866. He later settled in Russia and wrote music for many Petipa ballets in St Petersburg including Don Quixote (1869) and La Bayadère (1877). He was Court composer of ballet music for imperial theatres in St Petersburg 1872-85. He retired back in Vienna in 1891. He was of course unfortunate in being overshadowed by his contemporary Tchaikovsky. Minkus’s music for La Bayadère, enhanced by John Lanchberry’s sympathetic arrangements, is well-crafted and well-suited to the drama, if not particularly memorable. The best of it is heard in the more dramatic opening scenes of Act II and the dream-like, classical corps de ballet in that same act.

An exotic and colourful production with some superb dancing by the leads but with some uneven support and rather uninspired sets and costumes.

Ian Lace

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