BWW Review: The Mariinsky Ballet Stages LA BAYADERE
What do you do, when you find yourself with a ballet artist who can seemingly levitate at will? A lithe male body that floats and leaps with such an airy insouciance it seems almost unfair he has to come back to earth? Answer: you seek out an equally lithe, supple prima ballerina whose talents match his, but with her own distinct gestural vocabulary.
Put them together onstage and: a miracle.
The Mariinsky Ballet touches down briefly here at the Kennedy Center Opera House with a revival of the 19th century classic La Bayadère ("the temple dancer") and although the ensemble occasionally struggles with the relatively cramped space of this Washington, D.C. venue (the Mariinsky's own stage is far grander), there is quite enough wonder to be had.
The plot of La Bayadère itself is as old as the hills; a warrior-prince, a confirmed bachelor, meets up with a humble a temple dancer, likewise dedicated to a life of chastity. There's love at first sight, they immediately abandon their vows and have a glorious night together-only to discover the next day that the prince is scheduled to be married off to some rich girl (arranged marriages being the rule, of course). So, no sooner has the warrior-prince promised himself to the humble temple girl than he agrees, perhaps reluctantly, to marry the money.
You know, dear reader, exactly how this fairy tale is supposed to end: the humble village girl, loved and abandoned, will die and return to haunt her lover's dreams. But the delicious twist here is that this Bayadère is not your typical 19th century heroine; she refuses to die downstage center with a whimper like the rest of 'em. Instead when she meets the rich girl she confronts her and, knife raised high, tries to kill her. The rich bride-to-be, not to be outdone, invites the girl back to dance at her wedding, and rewards our Bayadère with a bouquet of flowers containing a venomous snake, who finishes the girl off.
This leaves the prince mourning his lover's murder, dreaming of their reunion in the life to come-which, of course, is exactly what happens next. The prince is transported to a heaven that is already chock-full of jilted young women, all of whom dance in glorious unison to herald their latest arrival, the Bayadère. A heavenly pas-de-deux ensues, and our hearts are supposed to be lightened by the lovers' prolonged apotheosis.
Sometimes the tale is so hokey, and the cultural moment so freighted with gender issues (Harvey Weinstein, anyone? How about "Me Too"?) that you're better off ignoring the story altogether. And when you're dealing with a masterpiece by the great French-Russian choreographer Marius Petipa, the original creator of La Bayadère, you suspect he shares your impatience. Face it; the entire story laid end to end takes little more than 20 minutes out of this 3-hour extravaganza. Petipa uses the story as a mere vehicle to show off his artistry, and showcase the many talents of his ensemble.
As Nikiya, the Bayadère of the title, Viktoria Tereshkina's expressive work is utterly compelling; her consummate athleticism and discipline are masked by a masterful grace. Her mournful wedding dance, and her ensuing death at the hands of the cobra, are as beautiful a piece of work as you are likely to see. As the warrior-prince Solor meanwhile, Kimin Kim literally soars above the ensemble and takes your breath away. And it's wonderful to realize, as you gasp with every leap, that everyone around you is enraptured by the same miracle of flight.
There is the risk, of course, that Kim's effortless aeronautics might distract from the traditional focus on Tereshkina's character-but then again, are we really here to see the story? We are here to see some of the finest dancers in the world, and The Mariinsky Ballet clearly has them in quantity.
Some of the choreography for the ensemble has a dated, stilted feel, and because the stage is smaller than their St. Petersburg home the ensemble is forced to cluster together in formations that seem unnaturally tight-more like a rugby scrum with oriental hats. But when given their chance to shine many in the company delight the eye with choreography that is as diverse in its emotion and physicality as you can imagine, from the brawny bounds of Vasily Tkachenko's Golden Idol to the light touches of the Indian Dance (executed marvelously by Olga Belik, Nail Yenikeyev aned Oleg Demchenko).
It's a master class, folks, and I would urge mature audiences to ignore the story and focus instead on the near-flawless artistry of the Mariinsky ensemble.
Production Photos: Viktoria Tereshinka as La Bayadère, photo by Vyachelsav Khomyakov; and Kimin Kim as Solor, photo by Natasha Razina.
Performance Time: 3 hours, with two intermissions.
La Bayadère will be performed through October 22 at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, D.C.
Tickets (if any are left) can be purchased at the Kennedy Center box office or by calling Instant Charge at (202) 467-4600, or you can visit: http://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/event/BRBSE#tickets