A temple dancer, a valiant warrior, a jealous princess and a golden idol that comes to life; the Royal Ballet’s production of La Bayadère’s got the lot, and the ravishing vision of the Kingdom of Shades to boot. A load of hokum it may be, but the mixture of strong story and classic set pieces keeps the interest high. The performance I saw, on Saturday afternoon, fully lived up to expectations.
Our bayadère was Roberta Marquez, replacing the injured Alina Cojocaru. Marquez is not my preferred dancer for dramatic roles as her dancing lacks emotionality, but there is something about Nikiya that seems to suit her – at least in the early scenes before it all goes tragically wrong, where her flexible upper back was deployed to good effect. She is very petite – so much so that her Solor, Federico Bonelli, who is not the tallest of dancers, seemed to tower over her – and eminently ‘liftable’, with a startling speed and precision in her turns.
Bonelli gave a workmanlike performance but both Solor and Nikiya seemed a little colourless by comparison with the blazing Gamzatti danced by the Royal Ballet’s current jewel in the crown, Marianela Nunez, who was both imposing and vulnerable in the role.
The clarity of the narrative was another plus, partly due to Natalia Makarova’s production, but also because of the attention to detail by the dancers, particularly in the mime scenes. Nunez’s cold disdain as she offers Nikiya her necklace as a bribe to get her to give up Solor, Bonelli’s torment as he is forced to swear his love for Gamzatti, bringing the temple down around his ears – these were thrilling moments.
I didn’t recognise the name of the dancer in the part of the bronze idol (as he is called in this version, though he shone as gold as ever) and when I looked him up I understood why. Marcelino Sambé joined the company from the Royal Ballet School only last November and he is still an artist (the lowest rung of the ladder), which explained the slight sense of nervousness in his dancing, but he was admirably fast and bouncy – another dancer we may have the pleasure of watching progress to the top.
The corps de ballet can make or break the second act Kingdom of Shades, which opens with the famous (and painfully taxing) series of slow arabesques. On Saturday they were magical and it was good to see these normally unsung heroes applauded with such enthusiasm.
In the final act it was off with the tutus and back to the harem pants and bare midriffs for the tragic climax. This is where Bonelli came into his own, moving smoothly between partners in Solor’s complex dance with Gamzatti and the intermittently-appearing shade of Nikiya. The temple tumbled to dust in a thoroughly satisfactory way and Solor and Nikiya were united in death.
La Bayadère continues until 22 May at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.