La Bayadère is the most exotic ballet of those that premiered at the Bolshoi Theater, in the golden age of the Ballets Russes. Inspired by poems of Hindu tradition, the saris and veils take turns with the tutus. All accompanied by demanding steps to two. 140 years later, the most important dance companies in the world continue to bet on this success.
What is La Bayadère?
La Bayadère is inspired by the verses of the Hindu poet Kalidasa, in which she says women are consecrated to dance for religion. In India, these women are called Devadasi. They trained as dancers from a very young age, following a very strict discipline. It was the Portuguese navigators who spoke of them as ‘bailaderas’, from which name ‘bayadère’ derives.
La Bayadère: A Story of an Eternal Love
The warrior Solor and his brother hunted down a beautiful tiger in the forest. According to Indian traditions, this will bring you immense wealth. When they took their prey to the Raja, he offered the hunter his daughter Gamzatti in marriage, as a reward for his bravery. However, Solor was in love with Nikiya, the bayadère of the temple.
Solor is torn between doing what his heart dictates and what he should do for his family. Finally, he bows down to duty and accepts the marriage with the princess. But princess Gamzatti is not used to doing something that doesn’t go as she wishes, a spoiled princess who has always had things the way she wanted and as she sees fit. When she comes into the realisation that her fiancé doesn’t love her, she does everything in her power to eliminate her rival. She sent Nikiya a basket of flowers filled with poisonous snakes. The bayadère dies, but her spirit stays on earth, constantly looking for her beloved.
Solor is devastated; He sees the ghost of his beloved everywhere, especially at his own wedding. The Great Brahman unites the young in marriage, but just at that moment, the Gods claim revenge for the murder of the bayadère. They destroy the palace and all its occupants. A tragedy with a happy ending for Nikiya and Solor, whose souls come together for all eternity.
The Choreography Behind La Bayadère
The peculiarity of La Bayadère, compared to other well-known pieces of ballet, is that its beauty can be attributed to the mix between the classic steps and figures of the ballet combined with the Hindu aroma. In Europe, little was known about the oriental culture, although it was very idealized by the romantics of the time. Until learning the exact steps, Petipa spent six months riding the choreography of La Bayadère.
There is another added difficulty for the soloist who plays Nikiya, and it is related to the duality between life and death. Throughout the show, Nikiya is conquering Solor. But the character starts alive, full of passion and with a step to two that leaves no doubt of his love. Once dead, La Bayadère continues dancing, but now in an ethereal way.
A true interpretative challenge!