A brilliant fire god, opium dreams and a crashing temple. Stanton Welch’ s colorful staging of 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.
The drama of La Bayadère is complex, and Welch’s choreography is not only coherent, but crystal clear, brought to life beautifully by his dancers
The 19th-century classic demands an overwhelming amount of control from the entire cast, and the dancers of Houston Ballet definitely deliver.
Nikiya, the Temple Dancer; Solor, the Warrior Prince; Gamzatti, the Rajah's daughter; High Braham; Ajah, Gamzatti's servant; Rajah; Agni, the Fire God; Garuda, the Dream God
Scene I. The Jungle Temple
Hunting with his younger brother and friends, low-caste Solor 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 Solor’ s family celebrate the great occasion of Solor’ 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, Solor 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, Solor secretly arranges another meeting with Nikiya. When the festivities end, Solor 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 Solor 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 Solor 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. Solor 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 Solor’ 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 Solor’ 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 Solor 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. Solor 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 Solor finds only unhappiness in her beauty. Ajah’s devious plan works splendidly. Heartbroken at Solor’s betrayal, Nikiya dances for the couple. At the conclusion, as she embraces the basket, she is fatally bitten. Solor swears eternal love, but she dies in his arms. The Rajah orders Solor 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, Solor 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 Solor that by smoking the hookah he will see Nikiya.
In a narcoleptic haze, Solor is taken by the God of Dreams to the underworld where he is briefly united with Nikiya.
Awakened to reality, Solor 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 Solor that Gamzatti killed her. Solor 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, Solor 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, Solor and Nikiya are rejoined in their eternal love. They ascend to Paradise.
In July 2003, the acclaimed Australian choreographer Stanton Welch assumed the leadership of Houston Ballet, America's fourth largest ballet company, as artistic director. Since his arrival, Mr. Welch has transformed Houston Ballet by raising the level of classical technique, infusing the company with new energy, drive and vision; introducing works by distinguished choreographers to the repertoire; and attracting some of the world's best coaches to Houston to work with the dancers. He has created works for such prestigious international companies as Houston Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, The Australian Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, and Royal Danish Ballet.
LEON MINKUS was an Austrian composer of ballet music, a violin virtuoso and teacher. Mr. Minkus is noted for the music he composed while serving as the official Composer of Ballet Music to the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres in Russia. During his long career, he wrote for the original works and numerous revivals staged by the renowned Ballet Masters Arthur Saint-Léon and Marius Petipa. Among the composer's most celebrated compositions was his score for La Source (1866; composed jointly with Léo Delibes), Don Quixote (1869); and La Bayadère (1877). During his career Mr. Minkus wrote a substantial amount of supplemental material for insertion into already existing ballets. Among these pieces, Mr. Minkus is noted for the Grand Pas classique and Mazurka des enfants written especially for Marius Petipa's 1881 revival of the ballet Paquita. For this revival Mr. Minkus also created an expanded version of the ballet's Pas de trois, which would go on to become known as the Minkus pas de trois. Today, Mr. Minkus's music is some of the most performed in all of ballet, and is a most integral part of the traditional classical ballet repertory.
LA BAYADÈRE REPERTOIRE HISTORY
This was Houston Ballet’s third time performing Stanton Welch’s La Bayadère as a part of its main season. Houston Ballet performed La Bayadère during the Canada tour in 2015. Selections from La Bayadère have been performed at various performances of Houston Ballet’s Jubilee of Dance. Stanton Welch’s La Bayadère is currently in the repertoires of The Joffrey Ballet and The Australian Ballet. Before Stanton Welch’s La Bayadère, a previous one-act production of La Bayadère by Ben Stevenson featuring Act III’s “Kingdom of the Shades” was performed three times as part of Houston Ballet's main season.
LA BAYADÈRE PRODUCTION DETAILS
CHOREOGRAPHER: Stanton Welch
GENRE: Full-length Classical Ballet
RUN TIME: Ballet in 3 Acts with Prologue; approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes
COMPOSER: Ludwig Minkus
ARRANGEMENT: John Lanchbery
SCORE: “La Bayadère”
ORIGINAL CHOREOGRAPHER: Maruis Petipa* (First full-length performance in the U.S. restaged by Natalia Makarova for American Ballet Theatre in 1980)
ORIGINAL PREMIERE DATE: February 4, 1877 at Bolshoi Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia by Bolshoi Ballet
HOUSTON BALLET PREMIERE DATE: March 10, 1994 in the Brown Theater at the Wortham Theater Center in Houston, Texas; Act III “Kingdom of the Shades” scene only, choreographed by Ben Stevenson with Peter Farmer designs
STANTON WELCH’S PRODUCTION WORLD PREMIERE DATE: February 25, 2010 in the Brown Theater at the Wortham Theater Center in Houston, Texas
STANTON WELCH’S PRODUCTION COSTUME DESIGN: Peter Farmer
STANTON WELCH’S PRODUCTION SET DESIGN: Peter Farmer
STANTON WELCH’S PRODUCTION LIGHTING DESIGN: Francis Croese
HOUSTON BALLET ORCHESTRA CONDUCTOR (2017): Ermanno Florio
HOUSTON BALLET STAGE MANAGER (2017): Vanessa Chumbley