La Bayadère

La Bayadère ballet. Music by Ludwig Minkus orchestrated by John Lanchbery. Choreographed by Natalia Makarova after Marius Petipa. Recorded 2009 at the Royal Opera House. Stars Tamara Rojo (Nikiya), Carlos Acosta (Solor), Marianela Nuñez (Gamzatti, the Rajah's daughter) Gary Avis (The High Brahmin), Christopher Saunders (Rajah), Kenta Kura (Maghaveya, the Head Fakir), Genesia Rosato (Aya, Gamzatti's servant), Valeri Hristov (Solor's friend), and José Martin (The Bronze Idol). Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani, Francesca Filpi, and other artists of the Royal Ballet are the D'Jampe Dancers.  Other dancers are Yuhui Choe, Iohna Loots, Emma Maguire, Samantha Raine, Helen Crawford, Nathalie Harrison, Hikaru Kobayashi, Laura McCullough, Johannes Stepanek, and Lauren Cuthbertson. Valeriy Ovsyanikov conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (concert masters are Peter Manning and Peter Schulmeister). Set designs by Pier Luigi Samaritani; costumes by Yolanda Sonnabend; lighting by John B. Read; revival staging by Olga Evreinoff; ballet master was Christopher Saunders; ballet mistress was Ursula Hageli; principal coaching by Alexander Agadzhanov and Olga Evreinoff; dance notator was Anna Trevien; film direction by Ross MacGibbon; film produced by Ferenc van Damme. Released 2011, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A

Sexy but also vulnerable-looking Tamara Rojo is perfect as the doomed temple dancer. She also provides a dramatic display of the anatomy of the ideal female midriff. Marianela Nuñez, so charming as the innocent teenager in Fille mal gardée, shows her acting range with a terrifying portrayal of Gamzatti, the Rajah's lustful, power-crazed daughter. The other credited dancers are fine, especially powerful Carlos Acosta as Solor and José Martin as the Bronze Idol in a spectacular display of wonderful stagecraft and lighting.

The world created here probably bears the same relationship to ancient India that Superman bears to the science of law enforcement. But never mine: the sets and costumes are fantastic without being too gaudy or veering too deeply into kitsch. The music isn't great, but it is consistently engaging and well recorded; the video is fine with a minimum of motion artifacts.

But there are a few soft spots. I praised Acosta already, but his character, Solor, the great warrior and hunter, is a complete wimp when faced with a sole voracious human female. There is a scrim that shows up from time to time, especially in close-up shots. And alas, the female corps of 24 is only adequate for the famous white scenes in Act 2. Once you have seen this sort of thing done by the juggernaut Paris Opera Ballet female corps of 32, it's hard to be happy with anything less.

Now let's consider some screenshots; this ballet may not have deep psychological or artistic significance, but it's really fun to watch:

We start with the gorgeous Tamara Rojo as Nikiya, the lead Temple Dancer. Rojo has an huge intellect and resumé. She starred in 2 HDVD ballets from the Royal Opera House that we graded "A+": the wonderful Romeo and Juliet (as Juliet) and in the McGregor Chroma. (Rojo just retired from the ROH to be boss of the English National Ballet (as well as principal dancer). There she is planning a program "full of sensuality and eroticism." (Vanessa Thorpe in The Observer) H'mm. Let's hope somebody will be producing Blu-rays of Rojo's new productions!):

The High Brahmin priest (Gary Avis) is in love with Nikiya:

But Nikiya loves Solor (Carlos Acosta), who kills tigers with his spear:

Solor and Nikiya exchange promises:

But the Rajah (Christopher Saunders) wants Solor to marry his daughter, Gamzatti:

 Gamzatti (Marianela Nuñez) is the kind of girl who usually gets what she wants:

In an effort to get rid of Solor, the High Brahmin tells the Rajah that Solor already belongs to Nikiya. But this plan backfires when the Rajah decides to solve his problem by killing Nikiya rather than Solor. Hearing of this, Gamzatti lowers herself to offer a bribe to Nikiya if Nikiya will relinquish her claim to Solor:

But Nikiya spurns the bribe and fights back:

Humiliated, Gamzatti also vows to her wicked servant Aya (Genesia Rosato) that Nikiya shall be put down:

The Rajah offers Gamzatti to Solor. Overwhelmed by his desire for riches and power, Solor betrays Nikiya by accepting. There follows a lavish betrothal festival:

The High Brahmin orders Nikiya to dance at the festival. He hopes the dance will be enticing and that Solor's reaction to her dance will turn the Rajah against Solor. But Nikiya's dance is so expressive of sorrow and despair that it threatens to wreck the party. Alarmed, the Rajah orders Aya to fetch his murder weapon---a bowl of flowers to be given to Nikiya with a poisonous snake hidden under the blossoms: 

The snake bites:

Poisoned, Nikiya sees her sweetheart leave the party with her nemesis:

The High Brahmin offers Nikiya an antidote to the venom; but Nikiya, having lost Solor, decides to die:

Solor recognizes his cowardice. Crushed by remorse, he seeks refuge in opium:

In a drug-dream, Solor sees an army of spirits, dressed in white, mourning for Nikiya. This is the first of  many Petipa abstract set pieces to come, often made for the female corps in white, which are today considered the zenith of the art of ballet. And we are lucky to now have excellent HDVD productions of many of these ballets: Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Raymonda.

And then the shade of Nikiya herself appears, granting Solor forgiveness and reconciliation:

The dream is shattered when Gamzatti enters the den and orders Solor to prepare for the wedding:

At the Temple, the Bronze Idol (José Martin) bounds to life:

This makes a great PC wallpaper---try it!

The wedding ceremony begins:

But Nikiya haunts Solor's every step:

When Solor forces himself to utter his vow of marriage, an earthquake destroys the Temple and everyone inside:

Nikiya and Solor are finally united:

Here's a clip of the Nikia death scene: