Love is tragic and sumptuous in the Mariinsky Ballet’s La Bayadère.
At the Kennedy Center this week, under director Valery Gergiev and acting ballet director Yuri Fateev, the production – its sets (by Mikhail Shishliannikov) vast, its costumes (by Yevgeny Ponomarev) sensual and splendid – has a remarkable grandeur. The very size of the company and staff – it’s a veritable touring village – is somewhat overwhelming.
But all that would amount to mere pomp were it not for the incredible caliber of the dancers.
The cast rotates, and Tuesday night’s performance featured an exceptional duo: the light, slender, but electrifying Kimin Kim as the warrior Solor and the glorious Viktoria Tereshkina as Nikiya, the bayadere, or temple dancer, to whom Solor pledges his love.
Offered the hand of the beauteous Gamzatti, the Rajah’s daughter, Solor betrays Nikiya. While dancing at Solor and Gamzatti’s wedding, Nikiya is fatally bitten by a poisonous snake hidden in a basket of flowers. This is likely the work of Gamzatti, whom Nikiya had earlier assailed. Solor, dazed and bereft, seeks Nikiya out in her afterlife in the famed Act III “Kingdom of the Shades.”
Kim and Tereshkina’s partnering is beautiful, the varied lifts seamless. But it’s in their second- and third-act solos that they fully display their stunning technique and, in her case, a great versatility as well. Her dance before Solor and Gamzatti at their wedding is doleful and defiant, Tereshkina’s torso, arm, and hand movements a poignant poem. La Bayadère is an inconsistent hodgepodge of cultural inspirations and appropriations, however, so by Act III, her Eastern-inflected choreography becomes, in the netherworld, traditional French-Russian ballet at its most taxing in adagios featuring wondrous arabesques on point and brisk multiple pirouettes. One of the latter threw Tereshkina off slightly on Tuesday, but overall her precision and emotional range were deeply affecting.
I’d like to have seen more of that emotional range from Kim – Nikiya’s heartbreak you feel while Solor’s you surmise – but his dancing was spectacular. His tours and chaines were swift and intense. And his stage-circling leap and cabriole sequences were mesmerizing – one moment all horizontal momentum, the next all vertical lift, with no visible preparation, like a little space capsule boosted midair by invisible thrusters.
Anastasia Matvienko’s acting and dancing were at times a bit stiff in her portrayal of Gamzatti, but her fouettes toward the end of Act II were thrilling. Grigory Popov, as a fakir and ally of Solor, and Vasily Tkachenko, as the Golden Idol in the wedding scene, were also notable for their muscular, splendidly phrased solos. The corps, after its iconic gradual Shades entrance in the third act, became a gorgeous, eerie single entity, whether quietly pivoting on the stage’s periphery during the principals’ string of showpieces or coming center and generating furious echappe-changement progressions in ravishing unison.
closes October 22, 2017
Details and tickets
Ludwig Minkus’s score is wildly uneven. It has moments of great lyricism, pretty waltzes, and playful interludes, but also some plodding, repetitious bits. Yet, through thick and thin, the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, conducted by the Mariinsky’s Gavriel Heine, was superb, with especially beefy mid-range brass, lovely violin and harp solos, and animated percussion, particularly snare.
One leaves the theater elated by the Mariinsky’s sheer concentration of talent, effort, and artistry.
La Bayadère . Music by Ludwig Minkus . Choreography by Marius Petipa (1877) . Revised choreography by Vladimir Ponomarev and Vakhtang Chabukiani (1941) with dances by Konstantin Sergeyev and Nikolai Zubkovsky . Libretto by Marius Petipa and Sergei Khudekov . Set design by Mikhail Shishliannikov after (set designs by Adolf Kvapp, Konstantin Ivanov, Pyotr Lambin and Orest Allegri) . Costumes by Yevgeny Ponomarev . Lighting Design by Mikhail Shishliannikov , Mariinsky Ballet presented at The Kennedy Center . Reviewed by Alexander C. Kafka.