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. Polina Semionova, an American Ballet Theatre principal and Mikhailovsky Theatre guest artist, is particularly captivating as La Bayadère’s heroine, the lovelorn and doomed Nikiya.
In the variation preceding the Nikiya’s death, Semionova’s lithe figure undulates—not unlike the snake whose deadly bite is the character’s fate—and melts effortlessly into each supple lunge and backbend. The lyrical choreography exhibits Semionova’s usual flawless lines, and she embodies Nikiya’s desperation in the way she clutches her neck and bows pleadingly towards Solor. Watching this video, I can hardly tear my eyes away from the seductive, simple way Semionova peels one perfectly arched foot off the floor, steps to sous-sus and twists her graceful arms overhead. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!