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La Bayadère in Munich

Sabine Proll tells us about La Bayadère spectacular performance in Munich:

On June 16, 2023, Bayerisches Staatsballett Munich performed "La Bayadère" to the music by Ludwig Minkus in a choreography by Patrice Bart (after Marius Petipa) in 2 acts and 6 scenes. This production had its premiere in Munich in 1998, as the first performance of this version in Germany.

The Japanese set designer Tomio Mohri created a beautiful stage and very colorful, yet not overloaded costumes. Even back then, their intention was to be careful with the cliches about Indian Culture, Orientalism and colonialist thinking. Now, unlike other companies in Germany, Bavarian Staatsballett did not cancel this iconic ballet for such reasons, but took the chance for a wide discussion among artists and audience about the different perspectives about La Bayadère. For example some dancers did a workshop with the Indian dancer Dr. Anoosha N Shastry to learn more about the cultural background and the differences and commonalities of classical ballet and classical Indian dance. It is highly recommended to check out Staatsballett's website for this interesting and necessary discussion.

This year dancers were coached by Raffaella Renzi and this performance marked the debut of several dancers in this ballet:

Jeanette Kakareka-Zhang as Nikija, Margaret Whyte in the Grand Pas, Maria Chiara Bono, Bianca Teixeira and Carollina Bastos in the Shadow Act Variations, and Shale Wagman as Golden Idol. Patrice Bart's choreography, although based and very close to the Original libretto by Marius Petipa, brings some surprises. Like in the beginning, the Great Brahmin and the temple dancers gather for the Holy Fire festivities, but the actual fireplace is missing.

The production comes with a lot of beautiful details though, to point out especially the colorful costumes:

  • There were the long skirts and harem pants for the female temple dancers, when they dance on semi-pointe in the first scenes.

  • The delicate lila skirt and scarf for Gamzatti, covered with silver leaves, was a special eye catcher. Gamzatti appeared only later, for her engagement, in a tutu.

  • The heavy golden coats/robes and mighty headpieces for the Brahmin and Radja were impressive. Speaking of mighty headpieces, the hats for some servants were so big that their faces were not visible. Their appearance looked actually like walking hats and was a fun to watch.

  • Also, the little pupils from the Munich ballet academy in greenish costumes with rose ornaments on the chest, holding Parrot puppets, were adorable.

  • And the white shimmering tutus in the shadow act were so elegant and mirrored the white/green onstage perfectly.

But what about the dancing?

Jeanette Kakareka danced Nikija with a secure and lyrical technique. Her long elegant arms were just perfect to translate the longing for love and the desperation when she realizes Solor's betrayal. The fact that her husband in real life, Jinhao Zhang, danced Solor, certainly helped with the beautiful and intimate lifts and the Pas de Deux altogether. Zhang showed himself as a reliable partner.

Prisca Zeisel reprised the role of Gamzatti, and she was perfect in technique and acting as the majestic princess. The audience gave warm applauses after all their solo parts and Pas de Deux.

Of course the audience's focus is on the 3 main roles, but I want to point out two very well performed group dances: the fierce male drum dancers with the solo couple Marta Navarrete Villalba and Yago Gonzaga (very passionate) and the amazing ladies who did the famous shadow act entrance. In Munich, we saw 24 ballerinas in almost perfect symmetry with beautiful Port de bras and very precise dancing. Just like in Giselle, the dancers carry the ghostly atmosphere, where the stage was bathed in soft white/greenish light. It was just beautiful and of course this iconic white act formed a stark contrast to the so very colorful real world in the Radja's Palace.

Rounds of applause filled the sold out house.

For the wedding ceremony, another famous solo was part of this production: originally, the Dance of the Golden Idol was not part of Petipa's libretto, but introduced in 1948 in the Mariinsky ballet production, choreographed and danced by soloist Nikolai Zubkovsky.

Shale Wagman delivered a phenomenal performance in his debut here. A sparkling figure, with ever so soft landings after "flying" across the stage, he mesmerized the audience and was awarded with loud applause and bravos.

The finish, after the palace is destroyed by an earthquake and fires (very impressive stage setting again, were long red foulards were shaken and bathed in red/orange light), was another surprise. The apotheosis shows Nikija, Solor and Gamzatti are reunited in the Eternal Light, entering together the afterworld.

I was impressed also by the superbe violin solo by Markus Wolf, performed in the orchestra pit. Michael Schmidtsdorf conducted the Bayerisches Staatsorchester dynamically and with harmonious sound.

La Bayadère will be part of next season in Munich, and it's a beautiful production with excellent dancers is not to be missed. Side note: it seems that the Bayerisches Staatsballett Munich is now the only big company in Germany still holding onto the traditional classical repertoire. I hope they stick to this policy. It's an essential part of European culture.

Next performances: from February 2024.

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