La Bayadere

The Mariinsky Ballet: “La Bayadere”
Cal Performances Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019
Zellerbach Hall UC Berkeley


Imagine returning 142 years into the past, to Imperial Russia, to the time of great elaborate productions of romantic yet classic ballet. The Mariinsky Ballet production of “La Bayadere” made it possible. The event was amazing, historical, very grandiose, very Russian. We are grateful to witness this event and appreciate the complexity of bringing the number of dancers, musicians, staff, sets and costumes to Cal Performances.

The choreography is by the great Marius Petipa who gave us “The Sleeping Beauty”, “Swan Lake” and “Raymoda.” These are set to the music of Tschaikovsky and Glazunov and remain in most audiences minds as the essence of ballet. 20th century dance has changed that image.

The grandiose aspects of “La Bayadere” are overwhelming, Each act demands a new set, a wide range of costumes, props and “extras.” The plot echoes the romantic operas of the 19th century, unrequited love, vengeance, exotic atmosphere and finally, fulfillment in the afterlife. The first two acts are set in a ‘make-believe’ India, compete with warriors, a Rajah, a High Brahman in love with a slave girl (La Bayadere), a heroic Warrior, temple dancers of all sorts and even, a walk on elephant! The third act enlists a snake charmer!

Act II is set as an elaborate wedding celebration, featuring numbers of dance episodes by small groups of ballerinas and several solos for men, among them an Indian dance, a drum dance and warrior dances. If we had Petipa’s early notes, we might learn the exotic and folk sources of these pieces. Ludwig Minkus’ score resounds with folk element and good traditional waltzes and mazurkas.

For the opening event, Ekaterina Kandaurova danced La Bayadere. She is small and slight, yet is able to project an infinite range of nuanced movement in all the dimensions demanded or her; the opening ‘slave’ dance, the seemingly rejected lover, the soloist in the Kingdom of Shades. The ballet lasts three hours and this soloist must emerge in the third act as a complete different character in command of the thirty-two “shades”! Andrei Yermakov danced the warrior/lover Solar, who betrays, then ultimately claims La Bayadere. He was an heroic actor/dancers displaying all the technical abilities demanded. Yakaterina Chebykina portrayed the Rajah’s daughter who attempts to steal Solar. Although she is technically brilliant, I found her performance wooden and undramatic in comparison to that of Kandaurova.

The opening episode of Act III, in the Kingdom of Shades, is the ultimate ballet episode. Thirty-two ballerinas enter, one by one, repeating a phrase that is difficult, beautiful and is repeated through many musical measures. For this reviewer, that part of “La Bayadere” is the ultimate in ballet performance. It was remarkable well done, opening the closing act of this historical evening. Bravo ! to all and to the Mariinsky Ballet for their stamina and superb performance.

Joanna G. Harris