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Bolshoi La Bayadère, Chicago, 11/14


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It’s really hard to believe that I’m the only BA’er who saw the Bolshoi’s La Bayadère in Chicago. Thursday night, the second of a two-performance run, the house was packed. But if no one else will post, once again you are left with my less-than-tutored impressions.

It was apparent immediately that this was an uncommonly high level of dancing. The simple skips of the opening male corps had a uniform lightness that signaled a great depth and precision in the company.

Although we thoroughly enjoyed the performance, I had a hard time getting past the bizarreness of the whole concept. Yes, the setting is exotic India – but what are all those classical ballerinas doing there? Shouldn’t an Indian dancer incorporate some aspects of Indian dance into her art? Similarly, the music – which I gather is often pilloried as "inconsequential" or "pleasant" – evokes nothing of the setting. How did all those circuslike carnival tunes find their way to an Indian wedding ceremony? I’m sure I’m missing some nuance of ballet –or cultural -- history here. (Actually, I had a conversation today with someone who Knows About These Things, and she assured me that this is pretty typical of 19th century ballets.)

Then, there were the varied dancers in Act II, the engagement feast. There seemed to be some confusion in the costuming department as to whether these were Indians from the sub-continent or Native Americans. My daughters dubbed the female who danced during the drum dance as "The Cheerleader." And there was the clan I came to know as "The Carhops", for their perky little caps, perky little skirts, perky gold slippers, perky little smiles, and perky little choreography. I did like the parrots, though.

I was unable to view the drama through a 19th century lens, and through a 21st century lens the conflicts all look pretty weak. Maybe it’s just that we don’t see enough of any one character to care. Solor and Nikiya dance one pas de deux, and from that we are supposed to believe in their undying love? The story gets told, it doesn’t build.

But, oh my, the dancing was superb. Once you get past the weirdness of it all and just take it for what it is, it was enthralling. Watching Nikiya (Anna Antonicheva), I finally began to understand the concept of "pretty feet". Dolphingirl, who understands these things much better than I do, thought the boys/men/XYs were having a better night than the girls/women/XXs. Indeed, Solor (Sergei Filin) and the Golden Idol (Morihiro Ivata) were simultaneously powerful and light. The Golden Idol dance was a showstopper, prompting Dolphingirl to wonder, "How did he DO that?"

The real showstopper, of course, was the entrance of the Shades. But I liked their dance – both the corps and the three variations -- even better than their entrance.

Tonight, we go to see the final performance of Swan Lake. BalletNut, thanks for your review from Berkeley. We’ll be seeing a different cast, but your notes on the production have been a good preparation.

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Thanks very much for posting this, treefrog. La Dolphin may post as well, of course :)

I agree -- it's a mess. It's a big, 19th century variety show. The classical unities were not in favor then :) And it had to appeal to a mixed-interest audience, just like today. Back then, the character dancers (and that Tom Tom dance IS our Indians, not theirs. God knows why. It's part of the interest that people then had about other cultures, and the way they expressed it. There's one dance, done by young women on this tour, that's generally done by children, and generally done in black face/black body stockings.

I saw this production when the Bolshoi was here a few months ago, and as a production, it's the weakest Bayadere I've seen. But I agree -- there is some glorious dancing in it.

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The 19th century/Turn of the 20th loved exotic locations, strong emotions, variety shows, casts of thousands, slave girls, pashas, abductions from the Grand Turk's harem, gypsy duels, etc.. (Probably our movies, the one's the kids see particularly, still love those things). Think of the novels of Anatole France, of Massenet's operas (for instance, Esclarmonde) or the those of Verdi (Il Trovatore for example). It's in that context that I see and quite like Bayadere.

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