The glorious execution of the ‘Temple Dancer’

The first ballet performance of the season, La Bayadère (the Temple Dancer) proved to be a home-run production. With its superb techniques, choreography costumes, backdrops, orchestra and music, here’s why you shouldn’t have missed the amazing combo of Tokyo Ballet and Prague Philharmonia. The first ballet performed at the Royal Opera House Muscat this season was a Japanese production of La Bayadère (the Temple Dancer). It was a glorious performance of supreme perfection, applauded wildly by all who saw it on Thursday evening. The Three Act, two-hour drama went by in a blink, so superb was the technique, choreography, costumes, backdrops, orchestra and music presented by the Tokyo Ballet.
La Bayadère is set in ancient India and has music by the 19th century Austrian composer, Ludwig Minkus. It was originally choreographed by the celebrated French dancer, Marius Petipa (whose 200th anniversary is celebrated this year) for the Bolshoi Theatre in St Petersburg and premiered in 1877. It was later reworked for the Metropolitan Opera in New York by Russian choreographer Natalia Makarova in 1980. In Oman “La Bayadère” was accompanied live by the Czech Orchestra, the PKF. This cross-cultural integration produced one of the finest performances seen at ROHM in recent seasons and was testament to the discipline and rigour of the Tokyo Ballet Academy. Credit also goes to the Prague Philharmonia for its superb intonation, timing and sensitivity to the music, under guest conductor, the Russian Maestro, Valery Ovsyanikov.
The story is one of love, betrayal, vengeance and haunting guilt which eventually causes the downfall of all involved. Solor, the noblest warrior in the land, is in love with the beautiful Temple Dancer, Nikiya. They swear eternal love, but complications develop in the shape of The High Brahmin. Overwhelmed by Nikiya’s beauty he proposes to her, but she rejects him as he is a man of God. The seeds of jealousy are sown and he invokes the gods to help him kill Solor. In the Royal Palace, the Rajah rewards Solor’s valour by offering his daughter’s hand in marriage. When Gamzatti’s veil is lifted, Solor is overcome and cannot resist her attractions nor refuse the Rajah’s wishes. A love triangle thus ensues.
The Ballet opened in ‘The sacred forest, outside the temple’ after a tiger-hunt, with six Fakirs performing an earthy, leaping, sacred fire-dance. Head Fakir, Magdayeva, was brilliantly danced and grovelled throughout with energetic athleticism and skill by Shuntaro Ifuku. The role of Solor was danced with breath-taking precision and strength by Dan Tsukamoto, while Nikiya was interpreted with poetic emotion by the lithe and impossibly flexible, Mizuka Ueno. Nagano-born Akimi Denda, who has been appearing as a soloist with Tokyo Ballet for a decade, performed the character of Gamzatti with supreme grace and beauty.
The sets, designed by Pier Luigi Samaritani, were imposing and sumptuous without being distracting, for example curtains provided temple entrances, set in huge facades atop steps. The entire wardrobe was designed ingeniously by Yolanda Sonnabend from La Scala, Milan.
Scenes of celebration provided vehicles for well-synchronised ensemble dancing, for which Tokyo Ballet is well renowned. The temple dancers in Scene One, or the entertainment for the betrothed couple in ‘A Room in the Palace’, where the corps de ballet were dressed as ladies from the harem, stood out. The final scene of Act 1 is a perfect example of this: a ballet within a ballet in ‘The garden of the palace’ is set against magnificent moonlit mountain scenery. Duets and trios from the chorus had a platform to explore some exquisite classical ballet sequences to perfection. There were tour-de-force solos from Tsukamoto as Solor, which brought an enthusiastic response from the auditorium. The Rajah and his daughter decide to poison Nikiya to get rid of her rivalry, and this brought the scene to a mimed dramatic ending.
Act 2, Solor’s tent, complete with divan and opium pipe, presents the famous ‘Kingdom of the Shades’ scene which is considered one of the most beautiful scenes from the entire classical ballet repertoire. It remains one of the ultimate challenges for the dancers, as explained before the performance by the Russian-trained Artistic Director of Tokyo Ballet, Yukari Saito: “The twenty-four girls are distracted by the light as they descend the slope of Mount Kailash in Tibet, at the back of the stage for their entrance, which makes them nervous until they have all arrived on stage”. The mesmerising simple movement is repeated forty times as a metaphor for the timelessness of the underworld, and the result is a performance so perfectly synchronised that the corps de ballet move as one. It also includes a captivating ‘Pas de Deux’ between the hallucinating Solor and the ghostly Nikiya, showing their mastery of Makarova’s unique choreographic style with astounding precision.
Minkus was a virtuoso violinist and composer, and this is evident in the lush, romantic score for this Act which includes a challenging, high solo violin part, executed brilliantly by virtuoso Leader, Romana Špačková, and voluptuous harp sweeps, played beautifully by Roxanna Hädler.
The final Act was only reinstated since Anna Pavlova danced in 1909 by Makarova after Petipa in 1980, and concludes with the destruction of the temple, burying everyone under its ruins. In the shadow of the great Buddha, a bronze Nataraja idol is danced superbly in a convincing metallic costume by Principal, Arata Miyagawa. The corps de ballet portrayed an evocative candle dance which gained more poignancy as the temple tumbled. What should have been a final ‘pas de deux’ at the wedding to Gamzatti became an eerily tangled trio dance, though only Solor could see Nikiya, developing into the renowned ‘Pas de Quatre’ with the Rajah. The Tokyo Ballet was founded in 1964 and has 70 productions in its repertoire. Two years later they were awarded the title of “Tchaikovsky Memorial Tokyo Ballet” from the Soviet Union after a Russian tour. Perhaps we could claim them for our own in Oman after their splendid performances last weekend.

GEORGINA BENISON