La Bayadère - Bavarian State Ballet: January 25th, 2018
Igor Zelensky’s intentions of turning the Bavarian State Ballet into a „Russian company” are proving to be quite a hard task to achieve – with perhaps the exception of Russian companies, the Royal Ballet and the French Opera (in which MOST of the members – but not all of them anymore - come from one school related to a single style), companies nowadays are far too much international and too many styles and schools mix into a sort of melting pot. This is a good thing somehow but on the other hand quite difficult to master if you are rehearsing a piece like “Spartacus” or an English Ballet by Ashton (I was just thinking of “Marguerite and Armand” by the Vienna State Ballet last month) which require an extremely clean style. “La Bayadère” and the Bavarian State Ballet are no exception to this matter that should be occupying the directions of companies all over the world a bit more: style.
Patrice Bart’s “La Bayadère” is a beautiful piece of work – It restored the “lost” fourth act beautifully, the one that was omitted from this ballet for many decades after the sets were lost in a flood in St. Petersburg in 1924. Some refer, as already mentioned, to this flood in Petrograd (St. Petersburg), others mention that, in a post revolution Russia, there was no money for such splendor like required in the 4th act. Some explain that there was also no money left to repair the theatre machinery that is necessary to the temple’s destruction. The last “explanation” suggests the Soviet regime did not approve of a theatrical performance in which (hindu) “Gods” destroyed a temple out of anger… My only information for years had been Makarova’s attempt to restore the 4th act in her 1980 staging of the Ballet for the ABT (in 1974 she had staged the second act, “The Kingdom of the Shades”, which was the first glimpse of “La Bayadère” in the U.S.A.).
But one thing is quite sure: until the 1980’s this work from 1877 was not really known in the Western World. Because of a programme that I found once at my parent’s home, I had the “duty” of even correcting “Wikipedia” in some languages – because it just mentioned the Kirov’s first performance of “La Bayadère” in Paris and Nureyev’s staging of it two years later for the Royal Ballet. The first performance of “The Kingdom of Shades” in the Western World took place in April 1961 in Rio de Janeiro. Here an extract of “Wikipedia”:
"Although La Bayadère was considered a classic in Russia, the work was almost completely unknown in the west. The first western production of the scene The Kingdom of the Shades was staged by Eugenia Feodorova at the Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It premiered on April 12, 1961 with Bertha Rosanova as Nikiya and Aldo Lotufo as Solor. But it was to be the Kirov Ballet's performance of The Kingdom of the Shades at the Palais Garnier in Paris on July 4, 1961 that roused widespread interest in this almost totally unknown ballet from the Imperial/Petipa repertory. Two years later, Rudolf Nureyev staged the scene for the Royal Ballet with Margot Fonteyn as Nikiya. Minkus's music was re-orchestrated by the Royal Opera House's composer/conductor John Lanchbery. The premiere was a resounding success, and is considered to be among the most important moments in the history of ballet"
About the Munich production (originally from 1998) it should be said that the sets and costumes by Tomio Mohri are exquisite and that the musical adaptation by Maria Babanina (which changed somehow the chronology in which some pieces are played – that all due to the “reappearance” of the 4th act) extremely clever.
Highlights were (as always) the entrance of the Shades “climbing down from Heaven” and the Engagement Celebration. More attention should be payed to the reptile’s apparition. As I have heard during intermission, many spectators, not familiar with this ballet, did not “see” the reason why Nikiya died… The snake, hidden in the box of flowers, was hardly seen!
The corps-de-ballet: very correct but not at unison. There is a certain urgency of a better direction, coaching… In some scenes half of the girls are smiling in a very extreme way, the other half either serious or looking bored.
Norbert Graf (the Brahman) and Ilya Shcherbakov (The Radja) gave two very powerful performances. Stage personalities that know how to use their on stage Persona to give an impact on audiences.
Jonah Cook, as the Golden Idol, did a very correct job. I understand that this is not an easy role and most of the times the demands on a dancer just to “walk in – shine – walk away” are terribly difficult. I missed a bit of the “shine-department”.
Prisca Zeisel’s Gamzatti – anyways the most interesting part of the whole ballet – was alive, mean, ferocious like a tigress fighting for life… technically on top form (her point work, balance, sharpness of movements are the result of an extremely well-done upbringing as a dancer!) Miss Zeisel seemed to be enjoying the role and the, sometimes, quite difficult task of giving life to Gamzatti. I was a bit uneasy during her pas de deux with Solor. But we will come to that later.
Miss Zeisel seems to have won the heart of Munich’s audiences as it could be heard during the bows. Emotion. She is an artist that uses technique, as she once said to me, as a tool. On stage she is the character she is portraying and not “just” a medium to display technical achievements.
To try to describe Osiel Gouneo’s Solor is a hard task. He showed us just an imitation, an empty shell of what Solor should be. Unfortunately Mr. Gouneo’s viewing of a ballet’s main character reminds me too much of the "Cuban tendency" of just concentrating on pirouettes, tour en l’air and Manèges. Let us be honest: Circus… Nothing else. And there is so much more than that! Alicia Alonzo: what did you do to Cuba's "understanding" of Ballet?
He is a small dancer – so was Baryshnikov – but everything he did was small – unlike Baryshnikov: his jumps, his presence and even his mimics… nothing came “through” to the audience… how many times he tells the Radja “how beautiful Gamzatti is”. Nobody could hardly see what he was trying to portray.
And there were, unfortunately, some really tragicomic moments – like when he takes twice Gamzatti’s hand and walks away with her: he looked, beside Prisca Zeisel, more like a child being walked by his governess. Sad. There is still so much for Mr. Gouneo to learn. Also on the department of being a reliable partner.
Laurretta Summerscales as Nikiya was a pleasure. Beautiful lines (her arms!), lovely technique connected to a very simple art of displaying her feelings… Honesty! Sometimes her Pas de Bourree was a bit too uncontrolled with too long steps, to my taste – a fact that made her upper body looks too tense but her Nikiya was complete. It is not an easy task to be dancing the first lead when a taller and more fragile looking girl like Prisca Zeisel is dancing the second lead but she delighted the audience in a way that only a good dancer can. I do hope to see more of Miss Summerscales in the future – for me a very promising personality in the world of dance.
A most enjoyable evening and highly recommended! Bravo to the Bavarian State Ballet!
January 26th, 2018