La Bayadère Is a Lavish Spectacle for the Eye

dylangutierrez_joffrey_cheyrlmannThe Joffrey Ballet’s La Bayadère: The Temple Dancer is a lavish spectacle for the eye with its incredible dancing, opulent costumes, and over-the-top drama. Choreographer Stanton Welch has created an updated version of the 1877 ballet, which expands upon Marius Petipa’s original choreography by telling the story through movement and dance rather than pantomime.

The action unfolds in a jungle, royal court, and great temple in mythical India.  After the low-caste hunter Solor (Dylan Gutierrez) saves the temple dancer Nikiya (Victoria  Jaiani) from a tiger, the couple falls in love. The High Brahmin (Fabrice Calmels) is also in love with Nikiya, despite her complete lack of interest. To make life even more complicated, the Rajah rewards Solor for killing the tiger by arranging for the hunter to marry the Rajah’s eldest daughter, Gamzatti (April Daly). The love quadrangle results in murders, the wrath of the gods, and the destruction of the great temple.

This production perfectly encapsulated the Western world’s fascination with Orientalism during the late 1800s. Welch’s choreography infused classical ballet style with the flavor of Indian arm positions.  The women’s costumes ranged from sparkly midriff-baring tops and harem pants to leotards and tutus; the men’s outfits included traditional tights, flowing pantaloons, and even a few turbans. Ludwig Minkus’s musical score set the Eastern tale astride sumptuous Viennese waltzes and peppy marches.

The main part of the spectacle, of course, was the excellent dancing. Jailani’s exotic beauty and flowing expressivity evoked the passion of the temple dancer; Daly’s crisp motions and brought out the regal bearing of the Rajah’s daughter. Gutierrez contributed his stalwart presence and powerful jumps to the hero of the story. The most magnetic of the male dancers, however, was the statuesque Calmels. His movements embodied power and charisma, while his eyes exuded religious zeal. John Mark Giragosian also stole a few brief moments of the show with his furious embodiment of the leaping fire god, Agni.

One of the most remarkable parts of the ballet was the Act III Kingdom of the Shades scene. During  Solor’s hookah-induced hallucinations, 20 ballerinas wearing white leotards and tutus snaked down a ramp in what seemed like a never-ending line. Their simultaneous arabesques and pliés created a hypnotic living mandala.

Scott Speck and the Chicago Philharmonic provided their usual sensitive accompaniment. Principal cellist Matthew Mantell backed Jailani’s solo in Act II with a melancholy, sensuous melody. Concertmaster Janet Sung displayed both her romantic and pyrotechnical sides during the pas de deux in the Shades scene.

Four more performances remain for La Bayadère – Friday, October 25 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, October 26 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, October 27 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are available at joffrey.com.

Photo credit: Dylan Gutierrez as Solor by Cheryl Mann

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