A brilliant fire god, opium dreams and a crashing temple. Stanton Welch’ s colorful staging of La Bayadère is classical ballet with a touch of Bollywood. La Bayadère dramatizes the love story of Nikiya the temple dancer, her lover Solor, and the vengeance that keeps them apart – at least in this life. With lavish scenery depicting the jungles of India and costumes by Peter Farmer, La Bayadère features mesmerizing classical performances highlighted by the famous Shades scene, staged for the entire corps de ballet.
La Bayadere is a grand 19th-century classical ballet, and Peter Farmer has given us a big, visually stunning, Bollywood-like production. It’s a colorful story that’s sexy, provocative and very dramatic,
Scene I. The Jungle Temple
Hunting with his younger brother and friends, low-caste Solar tracks and kills the prized Bengal tiger that‘ s been terrorizing the nearby village. In its claws he discovers a woman’ s torn silk sari. From the jungle shadows, the beautiful Nikiya, the bayadere, reveals herself and thanks the young man for saving her life. He is smitten, as is she, but she’ s wary of what these new feelings imply and what might happen. With the approach of the villagers, she rushes into the sanctity of the temple. The villagers and Solar’ s family celebrate the great occasion of Solar’ s dispatching of the tiger. He will become rich. In reverent pomp, the High Brahmin, his acolytes, and the sacred temple dancers parade from the temple to hear Solar’ s exploits in saving the village. Accompanying the Brahmin is Kalum, the wild man and fakir, who prowls along the ground as if part animal. Immediately, Solar recognizes Nikiya, but her religious decorum prevents more than a passing glance. Impressed by the good news the tiger has been killed, the Brahmin leads all in prayer. He is a bit too solicitous of Nikiya, and his hands linger too longingly on her shoulder. In the tumult of ceremony and celebration, Solar secretly arranges another meeting with Nikiya. When the festivities end, Solar remains by the temple in hopes that Nikiya will join him. He is overjoyed when she appears, furtively looking for him. They fall in love and vow to run away as soon as Solar reaps his reward for the tiger hunt. Unfortunately, they’ ve been spied upon by Kalum who rushes to the Brahmin to inform on them. Enraged by Nikiya’ s dishonesty -- and that she’ s in love with someone else -- the Brahmin orders the entire temple retinue to the Rajah’ s palace.
With the colorful court arrayed, the Rajah bestows upon Solar an opulent reward for saving the village from the man-eating tiger. Not only gold, but the Rajah gives this fine young warrior the hand of his eldest daughter, Gamzatti. Solar is as shocked as his poor parents are overjoyed, but he must pretend to agree so no one will suffer. The High Priest storms in and, by his demeanor and sacred position, demands an audience with the Rajah. When the court clears, he tells the Rajah of Solar’ s attachment to a temple dancer, a sacrilegious offense to the gods, as well as an affront to his royal daughter. Furious, the Rajah orders the dancer killed, but the Brahmin quickly convinces him that he has another plan -- to break her heart -- and therefore save Nikiya for himself. Ajah, Gamzatti’ s handmaiden, has overheard the Rajah and Brahmin’ s plot, and tells Gamzatti of Solar’ s betrayal. Although they don’ t know who among the dancers her rival might be, Gamzatti and Ajah summon them to an audience with the princess. When Gamzatti announces that she’ s betrothed and displays a portrait of Solar as her love, Nikiya vehemently protests. It can’ t be, he’ s in love with me! Desperate, Gamzatti offers her a casket of priceless jewels to forswear Solar, but Nikiya will not waver in her desire. Ajah attacks her with a dagger, but Nikiya wrests it away and slashes Gamzatti’ s portrait before rushing from the palace. To console a distraught Gamzatti, Ajah devises a plan for revenge. She summons the Snake Charmer and selects from his poisonous wares a small viper that she will conceal in the basket used at the wedding ceremony. It will be arranged for Nikiya to carry it. Her death is assured.
The Palace Gardens
In the luxuriant gardens, the betrothal celebrations are lavish and colorful. Solar has risen far, with his parents and younger brother flush with pride, but he is tentative and reluctant, for he can find no way out of his dilemma. Arrayed in jewels and rich silks, the princess Gamzatti is radiant, but Solar finds only unhappiness in her beauty. Ajah’ s devious plan works splendidly. Heartbroken at Solar’ s betrayal, Nikiya dances for the couple. At the conclusion, as she embraces the basket, she is fatally bitten. Solar swears eternal love, but she dies in his arms. The Rajah orders Solar removed, and as Gamzatti rushes from the gardens, the Brahmin, overcome, embraces the dead body of Nikiya.
Scene 1. A Room in the Palace
Under guard, Solar lies restless and tortured at his fate. His younger brother attempts to console him but Solar is desperate. He calls for the fakir Kalum. With his assortment of mind-numbing drugs, Kalum assures Solar that by smoking the hookah he will see Nikiya.
In a narcoleptic haze, Solar is taken by the God of Dreams to the underworld where he is briefly united with Nikiya.
Awakened to reality, Solar is commanded by the Rajah to marry Gamzatti or see his family murdered. There is no way out. He agrees.
The wedding ceremony commences. During the vows, the shade of Nikiya appears and tells Solar that Gamzatti killed her. Solar accuses Gamzatti, who denies it. Ajah, who has also seen Nikiya’ s spirit, confesses that it was her plan and she is glad of it. Overcome by his unconsummated grief, the Brahmin stabs Ajah. Threatened by the Rajah, Solar adamantly refuses to marry Gamzatti. I would rather die, he defiantly states. Humiliated and betrayed, Gamzatti stabs him. With that outrage, the gods of the temple come alive to punish the desecraters of their holy precinct. The temple collapses, killing all. In the shattered ruins, Solar and Nikiya are rejoined in their eternal love. They ascend to Paradise.
From June 8 – 18, 2017 Houston Ballet caps its season with Stanton Welch’ s La Bayadère (“The Temple Dancer”), a historic classic set in royal India of the past. La Bayadère is a dramatic ballet of eternal love, mystery, fate, vengeance and justice, featuring spectacular scenery and costumes by the acclaimed English designer Peter Farmer. This lavish production recounts the story of Nikiya, a temple dancer, her lover Solor, and the vengeance that keeps them apart -- at least in this life. La Bayadère’ s third act, the famous Kingdom of the Shades section, showcases 24 female dancers in white tutus, executing 38 synchronized and seamless arabesques while descending onto the stage, and is one of the purest forms of ballet-blanc, or white tutu ballet. “The Kingdom of the Shades is a challenging segment because it requires such control and precision from the corps de ballet women,” said Mr. Welch. “There are few works in the classical repertoire that require more precision from the corps de ballet.” The Kingdom of the Shades is so popular it is often performed on its own. Houston Ballet first performed The Kingdom of the Shades scene, staged by Ben Stevenson after Marius Petipa, in March 1994 and revived it in 1998. At the ballet’ s premiere in 2010, Marene Gustin writing for Houston Press praised the Kingdom of the Shades scene by stating, “This is one of the most beautiful corps de ballet segments Houston Ballet has ever put onstage. It's absolutely gorgeous, and worth the price of admission in itself” (March 3, 2010). Mr. Welch choreographed La Bayadère on Houston Ballet in 2010. “La Bayadere is a grand 19th-century classical ballet, and Peter Farmer has given us a big, visually stunning, Bollywood-like production. It’ s a colorful story that’ s sexy, provocative and very dramatic,” observed Mr. Welch. English designer Peter Farmer, who has a long and rich history with Houston Ballet, created the spectacular scenery and costumes for La Bayadère. Mr. Farmer created a total of nine full-length productions for Houston Ballet since 1972 and is one of the few designers to have worked with three of the company’ s directors: Nina Popova, Ben Stevenson and Stanton Welch. The costume designs are reminiscent of brightly colored traditional Indian attire, such as harem pants and saris, for the first and second acts. The lavish production includes 121 costumes, comprised of 568 items. This also includes 26 handmade white tutus for The Kingdom of the Shades scene. The ballet’ s updated look and feel, while maintaining the classical elements it’ s famous for, has made the production an international success. Houston Ballet toured La Bayadère to Calgary and Edmonton in Canada, and the ballet has also entered the repertoires of The Joffrey Ballet and The Australian Ballet to critical acclaim.
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