La Bayadere

Marius Petipa’s original version of La Bayadère, which premiered in St. Petersburg in 1877, was meant to evoke the exotic Far East. Today’s productions have no shortage of tropes that Westerners might associate with a royal Indian court: elephants, rajahs, midriffs and opium dreams. The first time I saw La Bayadère, it was not the fantastical setting I found so mesmerizing, but the dancers underneath the layers of intrigue, silk and jewels.

It’s no surprise that in romantic ballets, love presides over each characters’ motivation. But not every story concludes with a joyous marriage. Marius Petipa’s La Bayadère, set in India, reveals the possible complexities once jealousy and betrayal destroy true love. This clip features Gamzatti’s variation from Act III, right before the gods take vengeance on those who have selfishly obtained romance. Former Royal Ballet principal dancer Darcey Bussell captures Gamzatti's character with calm sincerity, foreshadowing her solemn death.

The rehearsal studio is a sacred place for dancers. It’s where they assume roles of new and timeless works, transforming their movement to convey the ballets we cherish on stage.

All the ballerinas of the Paris Opéra Ballet are renowned for their crystalline precision, honed in the company's notoriously rigorous school. But Isabelle Guérin, an étoile with POB from 1983 to 2001, set an especially high standard for technical purity. The slow, mournful pace of Nikiya's death scene from La Bayadère lets us luxuriate in her flawless lines. Here's a recording of that solo from a 1994 performance in Paris. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


This interview originally appeared in the October 16 Pointe e-newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.

This month, the Joffrey Ballet presents Stanton Welch's production of La Bayadère for the first time. Pointe's e-news spoke with 22-year-old Jeraldine Mendoza, who will make her debut as Nikiya this Saturday, about learning the ballet.

Nikiya’s forbidden love is taken to a whole different level in the Royal Danish Ballet’s new production of La Bayadère. At the Guggenheim’s Works and Process showing, artistic director Nikolaj Hubbe spoke about RDB’s restaging, and his dancers performed excerpts wearing costumes by Richard Hudson (who also designed costumes for The Lion King).