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Why does Nikiya take the knife?

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I'm going to be seeing La Bayadere soon, and I've watched some videos and read about it. I think it's been addressed before but upon searching I can't find a topic created just for the question of why Nikiya tries to stab Gamzatti with the dagger. It is something that I keep wondering about because Nikiya is often seen as innocent and the "good girl" of the story.

Attempted murder isn't very nice, so I'm wondering how this action is most commonly reconciled with the character of the heroine of this ballet, what you believe is the best way of doing so and how this scene may affect her characterisation in other parts.

I've seen some where it is in self-defense and I've also heard that she goes into a trance and has no idea what she is doing until she hand is grabbed. With the latter version, I wonder if it has to do with Gamzatti's disregard for the sacred flame and if Nikiya, as a servant of the gods, is made to enact divine judgement as happens later in the temple destruction scene.

Thank you. If you want to share, I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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I often have exactly the same question when I see this ballet--no matter how cruel Gamzatti is being, it's not she who picks up a knife and tries to stab her rival, it's Nikiya. (Nikiya also disdainfully tells off the high priest for ignoring his vows when she herself is conducting an illicit secret affair.)  To me her actions suggest a passionate, impulsive figure--maybe desperate? or pushed to the edge?--but I haven't done any formal research into how this scene may have been intended by its creators or the different possible ways of playing it. And much of the ballet and people's informal commentary on it emphasize Nikiya's spiritual nature...which in fact is how the best Nikiyas I have seen seem to approach the role, attempted murder notwithstanding. Anyway, I, too, would love to hear people's thoughts on this.

Edited by Drew

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I do think you have to suspend disbelief a little during the Nikiya/Gamzatti cat fight. However, remember that Gamzatti (at least in the Mariinsky version) is basically saying that Nikiya is nothing but some lowly person (you can really watch and rewatch it and you will see this) and being pretty aggressive toward Nikiya. So tempers are flaring and when people get hot headed they do things they normally wouldn't. I believe in the reconstruction that the Mariinsky did a while back Nikiya comes back as a ghost or spirit and tries to mess up the wedding ceremony, so she's not a complete innocent, wilting flower. She's bound and determined to get her revenge, if I remember correctly. I am not sure how Ratmansky staged that in his reconstruction. 

But I do agree that the grabbing the knife and running/chasting Gamzatti all the way across the stage seems extreme especially when at that particular point she thinks Solor has pledged his love to her and sworn over the sacred fire and she even tells Gamzatti that during the cat fight. So she could have simply told Gamzatti off and left the building. She didn't really have to go after her with a knife. 

I guess it is supposed to be sort of like how people get road rage and act in ways they normally never would. From a theatrical standpoint it probably made the scene more exciting for audiences when it first was staged. The first time I ever saw La Bayadere I actually didn't question it, but as I have seen it more and more I have to admit I also find it sort of out of character for Nikiya to chase Gamzatti with a knife. I could see if Gamzatti were throttling her and to get away she grabbed the knife nearby, but it is a bit weird that way it is usually staged. I just think we have to view it as a rage moment like road rage. 

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A bit off topic but a jolly good read about temple dancers in modern India.  Note the reference to the high caste of the surviving dancer.  Had Nikiya married Solor she may have been marrying beneath herself, though as a warrior Solor would have been the same caste as Gamzatti as the princes were traditionally from the warrior caste.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/profaned-dancing-returns-to-the-temple-1525034.html

 

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On 10/1/2019 at 8:03 PM, Birdsall said:

...I guess it is supposed to be sort of like how people get road rage and act in ways they normally never would. From a theatrical standpoint it probably made the scene more exciting for audiences when it first was staged. The first time I ever saw La Bayadere I actually didn't question it, but as I have seen it more and more I have to admit I also find it sort of out of character for Nikiya to chase Gamzatti with a knife. I could see if Gamzatti were throttling her and to get away she grabbed the knife nearby, but it is a bit weird that way it is usually staged. I just think we have to view it as a rage moment like road rage. 

Sometimes people get behind the steering wheel and seem to learn an entirely new vocabulary! Even in general, there are people who are usually kind and slow to anger, but once they do anger they blank out and become  mean. I suppose Nikiya is an extreme case. I guess the roads are safer since she's in a ballet where there are no cars!

On 10/1/2019 at 3:31 PM, Drew said:

 ...To me her actions suggest a passionate, impulsive figure...

Agreed! Both Drew's and Birdsall's comments got me thinking about how La Bayadere advertisements emphasize the passion in the ballet. So it makes sense that Nikiya is an extremely passionate and expressive person and goes from solemn duty to intense love to homicidal rage to the pits of sadness  to ecstatic rejoicing and so on. She acts out whatever she is feeling. Gamzatti has her moments but on the whole I find that she is more much calculated and not as transparent as Nikiya.

On 10/2/2019 at 7:09 AM, Mashinka said:

A bit off topic but a jolly good read about temple dancers in modern India.  Note the reference to the high caste of the surviving dancer.  Had Nikiya married Solor she may have been marrying beneath herself, though as a warrior Solor would have been the same caste as Gamzatti as the princes were traditionally from the warrior caste.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/profaned-dancing-returns-to-the-temple-1525034.html

 

That is a very interesting article. I didn't really know any of that beforehand, so I learnt quite a bit. Thank you for posting it.

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In the Berlin-Ratmansky version, based on the Stepanov notes, it's made very apparent that the dagger belongs to Gamzatti's father Dugmanta. Dugmanta removes it from his belt and lays it on the chess table with a sweeping move, early on in the scene. I have not seen that in other versions.

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I think with the final act of revenge the action makes more sense -- Nikya has "l'amour fou" and is willing to do anything because of her love of Solor, just as Gamzatti is. 

I also think that in the time this story would have taken place pledges of love were taken much more seriously. It often meant a woman lost her virginity. (Most Puritans who married were often pregnant -- a betrothal pledge was that serious that "intimate relations" could begin.) So that's why Giselle dies of a broken heart and Nikya is willing to stab her rival -- back then love pledges were really serious business. 

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Just a note that the Stepanov notations for Bayadere that are held at Harvard don't include any of the action or mime scenes. The Act IV pas d'action coda is also quite short and does not include fouettes for Gamzatti.

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I prefer when Nikiyas react after they are stopped by Aya, Gamzatti's slave, as though they can't believe what they almost did. As if rage had overtaken them and they had lost control for a moment... 

But yes, tempers should be flaring from both sides in this scene!

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