What a delight it was in these days of crisis, downturn and global gloom to be part of the first night audience for The Paris Opera Ballet’s sumptuous staging of the exotic classic La Bayadère (The Temple Dancer). The enthusiastic Brisbane crowd came expecting wonderment and spectacle and, judging by the thunderous applause and standing ovations, they were not disappointed.
Coming to Brisbane via St Petersburg where it was first performed in 1877, La Bayadère was a major highlight in the distinguished career of Marius Petipa, whose other works include Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. Undiscovered by Western audiences until 1961, this staging was the swansong of Rudolf Nureyev who died three months after its premier at the Palais Garnier in 1992.
Seventeen years on, his faithful vision, taken from Petipa’s original notes, retains all the hallmarks ballet lovers expect from a Nureyev production – technical perfection, virtuosity and glamour.
But for those unfamiliar with classical ballet, La Bayadère is the perfect introduction. The story, set in Nureyev’s vision of an exotic Indian palace, is simplicity itself and typical of the great classical works.
Nikiya (Aurélie Dupont) is a beautiful temple dancer. Nikiya is in love with Solor (Hervé Moreau), a brave warrior. But the course of true love never runs smooth, especially when the Rajah (Jean-Marie Didière) wants Solor to marry his beautiful, imperious daughter Gamzatti (Dorothée Gilbert). And the Rajah is not a man to be trifled with.
At the wedding feast tragedy ensues. There’s a catfight straight out of The Bold and The Beautiful, an attempted stabbing, a rather impressive elephant and someone gets bitten by a snake – then refuses to take the antidote. What more could you ask for?
Oh and there are the performances of course. But really, what is there to say? We’re talking about The Paris Opera Ballet here.
As the doomed Nikiya the gorgeous Aurélie Dupont suffers like a tragic heroine should – gracefully and with perfect extension. Hervé Moreau cuts a dashing figure as her treacherous lover Solor. But it’s Dorothée Gilbert who gets to have the most fun. Her Gamzatti is a fiery tigress who’s not about to lay down and let an impudent serving wench steal her man and the catfight between her and Nikiya was a soapy delight.
The famous Act 3, Solor’s opium induced journey to The Kingdom of Shades, was breathtaking. I had never seen the legendary procession of the ghostly bayadères performed on stage and it really proved to be one of the great technical spectacles of classical ballet.
The costumes by Franca Squarciapino are almost too beautiful too believe. Her vision is strictly India via Russia and it’s a fusion that works perfectly. The sets by Ezio Frigerio are also jaw dropping, though so immense in scale they rather reduced the performance area, making some of the corps pieces look crowded. But it was a small matter given the high quality of the overall production.
I left the theatre with the feeling one might have after spending the last of ones savings on a beautiful designer dress. Slightly guilty, slightly naughty, but totally satisfied. La Bayadère is the prefect antidote to recession depression and a must-see for anyone interested in seeing a ballet classic performed by one the greatest companies in the world.
The Paris Opera Ballet
Venue: Lyric Theatre | Queensland Performing Arts Centre
Dates: 24 June to 4 July 2009
Tickets: $68.00 to $223.00 (inc. fees)
Bookings: qtix on 136 246 or qtix.com.au
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