Chicago Dance Review: LA BAYADÈRE: THE TEMPLE DANCER (Joffrey Ballet)

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by Lawrence Bommer on October 17, 2013

in Theater-Chicago


Earlier this fall the Joffrey Ballet revisited the uneasy birth of modern dance with a kinetic revival of Stravinsky’s still-shocking, century-old Sacre du Printemps in all its primitive vitality. As if to balance the ledger, the Auditorium Theatre is now filled with the gorgeous melodies of a late-blooming classical ballet from 1877.

Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez in Joffrey Ballet's LA BAYADÈRE-THE TEMPLE DANCER.With an infectious score by Ludwig Minkus, La Bayadere: The Temple Dancer premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1877 at the Imperial Russian Ballet, choreographed by the great Marius Petipa (who would go on to greater glory with Tchaikovsky). Sadly, though the third act’s famous “Kingdom of the Shades” (a kind of Oriental take on Giselle and her posthumous Willis) remained in the world repertory, the full ballet disappeared until 1961. But three years ago Houston Ballet revived this too-rare gem, choreographed by Artistic Director Stanton Welch with splendid updated orchestrations by John Lanchbery. It’s this gorgeous and condensed revival, presented by the Joffrey Ballet and accompanied by The Chicago Philharmonic conducted by Scott Speck, that is here only until October 27.

A scene from Joffrey Ballet's LA BAYADÈRE-THE TEMPLE DANCER.This extravaganza of a swirling spectacle transports us to a mythic India—and a silly story fully justified by the music that tells it. In this mystic realm of white Mughal palaces and rose-red fortresses, our hero is the low-caste warrior prince Solor (a splendid Dylan Gutierrez, making all the right moves), who has killed a tiger and saved a village. But he’s also fallen in love with the beautiful—and forbidden–temple dancer Nikiya (elegantly sensual Victoria Jaiani)—to the rage of the implacable High Brahmin (formidable Fabrice Calmels) who also craves the delectable Nikiya.

Erica Lynette Edwards in Joffrey Ballet's LA BAYADÈRE-THE TEMPLE DANCER.To provide more swift-moving complications, the bejeweled Rajah (Miguel Angel Blanco) rewards tiger-killing Solor with the hand of his daughter Gamzatti (quicksilver April Daly), a princess who’s not above sending snakes to a rival if it means separating her comely Solor from Nikiya’s irresistible charms. Unscrupulous Gamzatti gets help from her wicked servant Ajhah (Erica Lynette Edwards). But the evil forces that threaten the lovers have not reckoned with revenge from the next world, visited by Solor in an opium dream but very real in the finale. It’s enough to make a temple collapse.

Rory Hohenstein and Dylan Gutierrez in Joffrey Ballet's LA BAYADÈRE-THE TEMPLE DANCER.Exuberantly exotic, the sumptuous decor and costumes by Peter Farmer provide the right ceremonial—and storybook–setting for Minkus’ captivating, waltz-laden score. Solor and Nikya are given glorious pas de deux (as well when he partners with Gamzatti) that our principals turn into literal tours de force. The lifts, leaps and turns push courtship into carnality with an acrobatic elan and contagious delight. The dance of the four taut Groomsmen is controlled synergy, immaculately coordinated. Indeed this ballet teems with celebratory pieces that shamelessly showcase an unexceptionable ensemble who play Solor’s large family, monks, villagers, the royal court and its adorable children, two servants and no less than five gods.

Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez with ensemble in Joffrey Ballet's LA BAYADÈRE-THE TEMPLE DANCER.It’s suitably showy, a contrast to the third act’s second where we enter the purest heaven of classical dance with all its breathless beauty. Inspired by the rightly named dream god Garuda (Roy Hohenstein), the lovely female Shades engage in graceful and rhapsodic group movements as well as an enchanting pas de trois. The next world was never so deliriously exuberant. Thanks to La Bayadere, you can say the same of this one too.

Fabrice Calmels in Joffrey Ballet's LA BAYADÈRE-THE TEMPLE © Cheryl Mann Productions

La Bayadère: The Temple Dancer
Joffrey Ballet
Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University
50 E. Congress Parkway
scheduled to end on October 27, 2013
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie October 22, 2013 at 5:46 am

I’ve been surprised to read uniformly positive reviews of this ballet. I saw the show on Sunday afternoon and was very disappointed. I have seen this ballet on video many times (the Mariinsky/Bolshoi, Nureyev, and Makarova versions), and it is probably my favorite classical ballet because it is such a gorgeous example of pure academic ballet. I was cautiously optimistic about the Joffrey’s production – I knew Welch had substantially revised the ballet, but I was really just excited to see the ballet performed for the first time in Chicago. From the beginning of Act 1, it was obvious that the Joffrey’s production was La Bayadere in name only. It was upsetting to see such a dramatically watered-down version of the ballet I love. Welch made so many unnecessary revisions to the ballet, the must egregious of which was the re-choreographing of Nikiya’s beautiful death scene at the end of Act 2. That variation is one of the most iconic, beautiful variations in all of classical ballet. It presents a tremendous opportunity for the ballerina to express a range of emotions, and the music is thrilling as well. I was excited to see Victoria Jaiani interpret it since she has such a beautiful facility for ballet. I was floored when I saw Welch’s choreography, which was a short, shoddy substitute. I could go on – there are so many more examples of needless revisions, either to shorten the run time or for no reason at all. The Joffrey’s version has only 20 shades in Act 3 (reduced to 18 later on), not the iconic 32. Welch eliminated the Golden Idol, which is a fan favorite. The Joffrey has so many men that could have brought that variation to life, such as Aaron Rogers. The plot changes killed me too. Perhaps to make Nikiya appear more compelling, Welch took out her attempt to kill Gamzatti at the end of Act 2. The bizarre 4th Act with a myriad of stabbings made no sense; it would have been better to stick with the traditional 4th Act where Nikya’s ghost destroys the temple.

I guess I write this because I am surprised that I have not heard similar sentiments from any dance critic who reviewed this ballet.


jsmu October 24, 2013 at 9:39 am

You are quite right, Stephanie–I’ve seen Welch’s production with the Houston Ballet (a company of fine dancers) and it is extremely lacking. I agree Jaiani would be lovely in the *real* death scene, grrr–and not having 32 shades is even worse than not at least attempting 32 fouettes in Black Swan, grin. Yes about Aaron Rogers. I’m afraid the audiences and ‘critics’ respond only to the ‘spectacle’ and schtick of this version, and do not have any idea what Makarova’s version was like–nor what a revelation her staging of the Shades scene, which came before the production of the entire ballet, was to the entire Western world. If it’s any consolation, neither the Mariinsky nor the Bolshoi does this nearly as well as they used to either, UGH…..


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