NBT’S ACADEMY TRIUMPHS WITH “LA BAYADERE”
By: Hal de Becker
Photo: Virginia Trudeau
Just the thought of mounting a ballet the magnitude of “La Bayadere” is staggering. That the Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre (ANBT) did so and delivered a hugely successful production might have been beyond the expectations of anyone familiar with this immense work.
I was unable to attend the performance due to a prior commitment, but I watched a fully costumed, straight run through, dress rehearsal the night before.
Not only was it beautifully performed by ANBT’s students and guest artists, it was staged and choreographed with integrity and respect as well as deep knowledge of the traditional 1877 version by Marius Petipa.
It was a student performance but not a watered down kiddie version. It had a distinctive maturity with much of the original choreography in place and recognizable.
Until recently the complete ballet was little known outside of Russia. (I’d barely heard of it until I saw the “Kingdon of the Shades” extract in 1964 in London performed by the Royal Ballet with Nureyev and Fonteyn in the lead roles.) It wasn’t until 1980 that the full ballet was staged in the West by Makarova for ABT and later by Nureyev for Paris Opera Ballet.
The Academy’s decision to undertake such a production was a brave and no doubt expensive one. But the result was a perfect example of the end justifying the means.
For a first rate student production like this one it was necessary to have at least 60 talented dancers, a vast quantity of unique costumes, numerous separate dance and mime sequences, extensive rehearsal time, and the dedication of student dancers, their parents, guest artists and the Academy’s creative team. ANBT had it all and it showed.
Nearly all the choreography and staging was done by ANBT’s Director, Anna Lantz, formerly of Boston Ballet, and Academy Instructor Monika Rostomian, formerly of the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The ballet’s complex plot was conveyed with clarity by the youthful artists: Nikiya one of the Indian temple dancers known as bayaderes, and Solar, an aristocratic warrior, fall in love for which they ultimately suffer tragic consequences (shades of ‘Giselle’).
The powerful Rajah persuades Solar to marry his daughter, Gamzatti, and the temple High Brahmin, in violation of his vows, declares his own love for Nikiya but is rebuffed by her.
At the wedding celebration and with the high priest’s knowledge, the jealous Gamzatti arranges for Nikiya to be killed by the bite of a venomous snake. The broken hearted Nikiya refuses an antidote offered to her and dies.
In the final scene, the famed ‘Kingdom of the Shades’, Solar dreams of Nikiya and in his despair and remorse tries to follow her into the dream world.
Within the sad tale are many festive occasions providing opportunities for joyful dances by bayaderes, tumbling temple boys, palace visitors and wedding guests. Lantz and Rostomian took full advantage of these opportunities to create a production rich in dance, drama, mime, color and more.
There were too many outstanding performances to name everyone. However, the principal roles of Nikiya, Gamzatti and Lead Shade were danced by Elizabeth Linstruth, Lauren Chitren and Zia Mancuso, respectively
Ms. Linstruth’s dramatic interpretation was convincing and her dancing, particularly in the wedding solo, was outstanding. Ms. Chitren acquitted herself well and Ms. Mancuso exhibited strong, clean technique.
Outstanding among the adult guest dancers was Marcus Bugler as the Rajah. His presence and masterful mime – as expressive as the spoken word – made a major contribution to the action. Barrington Lohr looked handsome as Solar and Benjamin Tucker was persuasive as High Brahmin.
Throughout the ballet and usually in groups of 12 to 16, the dancers maintained straight lines and unity of movement. They also captured the exotic quality of poses and arm positions that were frequently untypical of classical ballet.
As large groups of dancers filled the stage in costumes of yellow, red, blue, mauve, purple and violet they evoked the impression of a breathtakingly beautiful flower garden. And their sustained poses often had the quality of artistic tableaux.
The dances of the bayaderes were particularly impressive as was the entrance of the ghostlike Shades in the final scene. The latter sequence began with 26 girls entering one at a time, each stepping slowly into arabesque and then repeating the step in a winding line until all were on stage together.
To be effective, their extended legs had to be brought to the same height and held there without wobbling. The effect can be spellbinding which, in this instance, is exactly what it was.
Also commendable were the dancers’ stage manners, self-discipline and professionalism during the rehearsal. They were focused and attentive and followed instructions promptly. I observed no whispering, wandering, giggling or other silliness, and that’s an achievement in itself for more than 60 youngsters clustered together on stage.