Half a loaf is better than no bread. That's the only principle on which I can welcome Natalia Makarova's production of La Bayadère back into the Royal Ballet's programmes. Potentially this is among the greatest of the old ballet classics, and whenever Makarova gives us Petipa's incomparable choreography straight, it can bring joy to your heart. But at times she has seriously diminished the effect even of those wonderful passages; I simply cannot imagine why she reduced the beautiful ensemble dances of the ghosts to only 24 women, instead of the 32 who look far more splendid in other stagings, nor why she cut out the fast section from the heroine's solo before she dies, thus robbing the character of contrast and depth.
Moreover, when it comes to spectacle and drama, her version is miserably meagre compared with that of the Kirov, Bolshoi and Paris Opera, and the scene she has added to replace the long-lost last act is too skimpy and muddled; can you take seriously a wedding with no guests, daddy staring into the distance and a sour-looking priest? The corps de ballet did its diminished big number very proficiently, although without much feeling, and there is scope for it to develop more unanimity. It wasn't helped by Charles Barker's dreary conducting.
Luckily, the opening night brought a good account of the three big roles. Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta are ideally matched as the tragic heroine Nikiya and her lover, Solor. Almost the least important thing about them is that both have marvellously strong, exact technique. That's great, but more to the point is the expressiveness with which both use their virtuoso gifts, their responsive playing together and the similar way they phrase their movements to music.
Completing the trio, Marianela Nunez is perhaps not so consistent in her dancing but pretty good for all that, and she, too, has a clear idea of her role as the Rajah's daughter Gamzatti, who wants to marry Solor and brings disaster to them all in trying to secure him. Her mix of smiling pride and sly determination is nicely judged.
These three are among the Royal Ballet's best for many years, and Nikiya is the finest of several new roles for Rojo this season. Acosta looks splendid in Yolanda Sonnabend's sumptuous new costumes, but I wish gauze front-cloths did not block the view of the last two acts. And reading in the programme about how difficult the corps' entry is, I wonder what they would do with the steeper triple ramps in the more authentic Bolshoi version?
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