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altongrimes

La Bayadere, Nikiya Death Scene

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Posted (edited)

Perhaps my offering here may strike the reader as a kind of wild gourd. After all, in spite of my decidedly formidable passion for the art form, I am acutely aware that Ballet Alert is populated by a highly trained and cultivated audience indeed. Alas, I, by comparison, am a mere newcomer. O.K, to my point. In every clip I have experienced featuring the Nikiya Death Scene, the entire stage would seem equally illuminated. To me, this appears as a painfully obvious lack of good creative judgement. I mean, wouldn't such an intensely intimate and dramatic moment as this call for Nikiya to be bathed in something like a kind of diffuse spot light? Surely, these excruciatingly beautiful moments are hers and hers alone? Bathing the entire stage in what appears to be the identical light, seems, in my opinion, to sabatoge the artistic excellence attempting to find a suitable avenue of expression here.

Edited by altongrimes

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Posted (edited)

Like you I'm not a specialist. But writing as a fellow fan, I wonder if these moments are "hers and hers alone" as you write. Perhaps one value of having the lights up is to allow the audience to study or at least be keenly aware of the reactions of Gamzatti and Solor -- as well as the Rajah and High Priest -- in other words to put Nikiya's suffering clearly in that larger context, specially since the drama of the situation is that she is being forced to dance at the celebration of Solor's marriage. That is, to have her "intimate" suffering play out in public.

I take it you are picturing something where one could see everyone else but they would be more dimly lit so one could have both more focused attention on Nikiya and still not lose the context. I must admit I would always rather see a ballet too brightly lit than too dimly (I have terrible eyesight) and I think a great Nikiya is, so to speak, her own spotlight, so I've never thought of wanting to see the scene as you describe .... but perhaps some production out there will try out something like it and we will get a chance to see what we think in the theater. 

Edited by Drew

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9 hours ago, Drew said:

Like you I'm not a specialist. But writing as a fellow fan, I wonder if these moments are "hers and hers alone" as you write. Perhaps one value of having the lights up is to allow the audience to study or at least be keenly aware of the reactions of Gamzatti and Solor -- as well as the Rajah and High Priest -- in other words to put Nikiya's suffering clearly in that larger context, specially since the drama of the situation is that she is being forced to dance at the celebration of Solor's marriage. That is, to have her "intimate" suffering play out in public.

I take it you are picturing something where one could see everyone else but they would be more dimly lit so one could have both more focused attention on Nikiya and still not lose the context. I must admit I would always rather see a ballet too brightly lit than too dimly (I have terrible eyesight) and I think a great Nikiya is, so to speak, her own spotlight, so I've never thought of wanting to see the scene as you describe .... but perhaps some production out there will try out something like it and we will get a chance to see what we think in the theater. 

Drew

         I see your point, Drew! Of course, it's not all about Nikiya but the unfolding drama involving other characters, as well. Yes. But perhaps to satisfy some part of my initial thought, maybe the lighting on the other characters and stage in general could be dialed down a bit in order that she is shown in perhaps a slightly greater light than they. Splitting hairs here !

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Posted (edited)
20 hours ago, altongrimes said:

...maybe the lighting on the other characters and stage in general could be dialed down a bit in order that she is shown in perhaps a slightly greater light than they. Splitting hairs here !

I wonder if this is also just in part a matter of staging traditions/conventions/habit/etc. In my recollections, daytime exterior scenes in conventional narrative ballet tend not to include a lot of expressive lighting effects. Obviously, there may be exceptions (and night scenes, dream scenes, etc. of course involve whole different set of conventions). But that seems to be the norm.

Edited by nanushka

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Posted (edited)

Actually...for a while now, and after seeing countless stagings, I now look at Gamzatti and Solor when Nikiya dies, and same with Giselle...I try to look into other characters around, like Hilarion. The fact that some of these trouble makers are portrayed quite different from dancer to dancer makes such climaxed moments like those very interesting to watch...

Edited by cubanmiamiboy

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Although Nikiya's death does not stand out in modern stagings of La Bayadere in the way Petipa clearly intended it should I don't think that special lighting effects are the solution to any lack of  theatrical impact that you may experience in the death scene.  The reasons for the scene's relative lack of impact it seems to me have little to do with how the scene is lit as they are connected with the choreographic contents of the act and the aesthetic tastes of the modern audience. Indeed I can't help thinking that special lighting effects might simply serve to confuse the issue as the death occurs in broad daylight and by convention special lighting effects are generally reserved for vision scenes, scenes set at night and supernatural interventions. 

It seems to me that the real problem with the act in which Nikiya's death occurs is that it is not the act which Petipa devised as it now includes a significant section of choreography which has nothing to do with advancing the narrative and everything to do with displaying the technical prowess of the dancers performing it. The sad truth is that the structural balance of the act in which Nikiya's death occurs was destroyed when choreographic material from the final act was added to an act which was originally created to be largely about Nikiya and to culminate in her death. In most modern stagings  Nkiya's death has to compete with an extended section of bravura dancing which was added to it  in the 1920's when the final act was abandoned. The problem is made all the worse because the modern audience has a real appetite for choreography which is essentially a display of dance and technical prowess and expressive choreography can seem pale and insipid when placed in juxtaposition to a display of fireworks. The other problem is that in modern stagings the corps de ballet who are on stage as the tragedy unfolds in front of them seem remarkably impassive and unconcerned by what they are witnessing and do not really seem to react to Nikiya's death. 

Having seen Ratmansky's reconstruction of the ballet it is obvious that the entire  act which ends with Nikiya's death was intended to belong to her alone. Her death was meant to be the culmination of the act and if it does not have to compete with a preceding firework display it is just that  The pas d'action in which her death occurs, as staged by Ratmansky, is so similar to the concluding section of the first act of  Giselle with the guilty aristos removing themselves from the scene as quickly as they can, the grieving lover bent over the body and the concerned bystanders grouped to create an affecting stage picture that it is difficult to believe that the similarities are simply the result of the stage conventions of the period.

Special lighting effects are required for the Shades scene because it is Solor's drug induced vision and for the final act which depicts the vengeance of the gods but these acts are concerned with something other than the day to day lives of the characters. Night scenes, visions and  supernatural interventions require special lighting effects but a death occurring in broad daylight during the celebrations connected with the forthcoming marriage do not. One thing that modern stagers who retain the bravura choreography could do to improve the theatrical impact of Nikiya's death is to make the bystanders react to it

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A huge thank you to those who authored the above replies ! So exciting that you would take the time to craft such an illuminating array of response. Wonderful stuff from everyone. So rich and educational. Thank you.

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