First performed in St Petersburg in 1877, Marius Petipa’s La Bayadere is a grand Imperial classic set to broadly danceable tunes by Ludwig Minkus.
The extravagant tale of an Indian temple dancer’s thwarted love for a warrior, as filtered through the 19th century male European imagination, it’s not exactly number one on the list of culturally sensitive ballets. There are leaping fakirs in grubby loincloths and an unfortunate tiger that seems to have wandered in from the Sue Ryder plushie bin.
But for all its cod-Oriental shenanigans and shamelessly exotic spectacle, it’s the principal performances that lift La Bayadere into a moving drama of broken faith.
As Nikiya, the titular temple dancer, Marianela Nunez articulates a poignant mix of solemnity and sensuousness, with pliant accents of the upper body that speak eloquently of both spiritual devotion and yearning romantic ardour. Her partnership with Vadim Muntagirov proves exquisite once again, a dreamy matching of line and musicality.
As Solor, he’s a high-minded sort of warrior, seemingly as serious as Nikiya but confused, boyish putty in the hands of Natalia Osipova’s ruthlessly alluring Gamzatti, who prowls into a love triangle like a silkily expensive cat with a volatile temper and killer instinct.
While remorseful Solor is elegantly off his chops in the opium den, the corps (admirably led by Romany Pajdak) come into their own in Act II’s famously mesmeric Shades scene. Under misty moonlight, the ensemble’s seemingly simple procession of repeated arabesques creates an almost fractal vision of infinity made flesh.