La Bayadère is the kind of ballet where infidelity is punished by the gods dropping a temple on the hero. The setting is a fantasy India, full of lush forests, gilded palaces and vistas that look like tinted engravings. Emotions run high, with a princess and a temple dancer (a bayadère) in love with the same man, with general plotting on the sidelines. It's melodramatic hokum, and it needs gusto. This Royal Ballet revival doesn't have it.
The first scene, between Carlos Acosta's hero Solor and Gary Avis as the High Brahmin, did get it right. Their mime gestures have a grand conviction. Acosta carries his head nobly, with an easy breadth to each sweep of his arms. Avis is intelligent, scheming, completely at home in this stylised language. The whole ballet needs that authority.
Though Natalia Makarova's production has handsome sets by Pier Luigi Samaritani, and glittering costumes by Yolanda Sonnabend, it remains a lightweight Bayadère. Pacing is too often weak. Conducted by Valeriy Ovsyanikov, the orchestra plod through Minkus's oompah tunes. The dancing in the first act lacked energy and bite. The d'jampe dance was all over the place, with dancers vaguely flapping their scarves.
The Royal Ballet has bee plagued by injury all season, with casts chopping and changing as dancers fall ill. La Bayadère ended up with a first cast of Acosta and Tamara Rojo, who both looked affected by the dullness around them. Acosta's solos were strong and buoyant, but he's been more exciting.
As the heroine Nikiya, Rojo looks constrained: she can dance on a bigger scale than this. Her solos have a sensuous flow, but the carriage of her head and shoulders could be grander. Acting out forbidden love, she and Acosta just fall short. The passion is missing.
As Gamzatti, the jealous princess, Alexandra Ansanelli goes from blankness to misplaced energy. Confronting her rival, she bursts into a showgirl shimmy: what was that about? Her dancing lacks presence and nuance.
The best of the choreography is in the Shades scene. Murdered by her rival, Nikiya appears as a vision, surrounded by a ghostly corps de ballet. who are tidy, though cautious. The solo Shades had the strongest dancing. Helen Crawford and Lauren Cuthbertson dance with clear authority. Yuhui Choe was a knockout, bringing out the contrasts of each step with assured musical phrasing. She makes her debut as Nikiya later in the run: one to watch.
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