|| Patriot Ledger
|| October 26, 2013
|| Iris Fanger
The eerie shades, or ghosts of dead maidens, do not appear until nearly two hours into the Boston Ballet production of "La Bayadere," but they are the most famous images in the work. By then, the hero, Solor, has followed his true love, Nikiya, into the afterworld, where they will be reunited for eternity.
The Boston Ballet has opened its 50th anniversary season with a revival of this 19th-century classic, which had its local premiere three years ago. With the Bollywood-type spectacular sets and costumes depicting life in storybook India, not to mention a full-size prop elephant and a host of dancing girls (or bayaderes) with midriffs bared, the ballet delivers a variety of thrills. "La Bayadere," set to a score by Ludwig Minkus, is just right as a contrast, to follow the company's successful free performance on the Boston Common in September. The mixed bill of a program attracted more than 40,000 viewers.
In truth, "La Bayadere" is a mish-mash of plots, centered by the rivalry of the beautiful and emotional temple dancer Nikiya and the princess Gamzatti, who both love Solor. The whole of it was dressed up in ethnic dances and high tragedy by Marius Petipa, who choreographed the piece in 1877 for the Bolshoi Theatre in St. Petersburg. Florence Clerc, former principal dancer for the Paris Opera Ballet and partner to Rudolf Nureyev, has again re-staged the work for Boston.
The ballet might be titled "Giselle Goes Indian" for the many connections between the plot lines. Like Giselle, the doomed heroine, Nikiya, is a simple girl with no family advantage, while her rival is the powerful daughter of the Rajah. And Solor is no different than the two-timing Albrecht, the beloved of Giselle. Solor accepts blood on his hands when he agrees to marry the princess.
The all-white final act where Nikiya enters the Land of the Shades, accompanied by Solor, who mourns her, is nearly a steal from "Giselle," given the unison patterns by 24 women of the corps de ballet dancing in the moonlight. Petipa added the fiendishly difficult, slow entrance down a double ramp for the Shades to vary the illusion for "La Bayadere."
At Thursday night's opening performance, the leading roles were performed by Lasha Khozashvili as Solor, Lia Cirio as Nikiya and soloist Dusty Button as Gamzatti. Khozashvili, who joined the company in 2010 from the State Ballet of Georgia (the former Soviet republic), is a tall, charismatic presence onstage, blessed with long legs that propel him far across the stage in his jumps and high in the air for the full twists of his body in his final solo. He is also an expert at the mime gestures that help tell the story, which are often cut in modern productions.
Cirio as Nikiya is even more poignant than remembered in the role, with her melting embraces and fluid torso, topped by the facial expressions that telegraph her feelings of joy, dread and final acceptance of her fate. The regal and demanding Button is effective as a cruel contrast to Cirio.
Otherwise, Jeffrey Cirio (Lia's brother), gave the Golden Idol an especially crisp performance, as if just disturbed from a centuries-old sleep. He was trailed by a chain of charming children, drilled in their dance by Melanie Atkins. Bo Busby was appropriately villainous as The High Brahmin, who also loves Nikiya, while BB veteran Arthur Leeth made a regal figure of the Rajah. Altan Dugaraa portrayed a chilling Fakir, Solor's servant. The audience was treated to three principal dancers as the leading shades: Kathleen Breen Combes, Ashley Ellis and Misa Kuranaga.
"La Bayadere" continues this weekend and next at The Opera House with changes of casts, to give the ballet fans a look at other talented dancers in the company. Watch for soloist Whitney Jensen and second soloist Seo Hye Han to appear as Gamzatti later in the run, along with Avetik Karapetyan as the Golden Idol.