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Jan McNulty

The Royal Ballet: La Bayadère, London, November 2018

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Hasn't she danced it before?  I'd have assumed the cast must be on their second performance by now.

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5 minutes ago, alison said:

Hasn't she danced it before?  I'd have assumed the cast must be on their second performance by now.

No, this was their first performance.  

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The local Curzon cinema was sold out full for La Bayadère. It hadn’t been for Mayerling.

As someone whose knowledge of ballet is very limited, I hadn’t realised how popular La Bayadère must be. In my days before 2014, as a very low-key ballet goer, I had even heard of Mayerling, but not of La Bayadère.

My random observations on what was a very enjoyable first viewing of this masterpiece.

The music. Although “classical” music is the performing art which I know best, I knew nothing about Ludwig Minkus. So I google his name, and read of his great importance in the history of ballet music.

The music suited the ballet very well. At one point in Act II it sounded briefly as it were about to morph into Émile Waldteufel’s Les Patineurs, which would have been most inappropriate for the mood of the Act! There were some fine passages, especially in Act III, but as a whole it wasn’t very memorable, and, unlike Tchaikovsky, I wouldn’t go to a concert just to hear the music.

Act I. Very long, and at a couple of points I found my attention wandering. Fortunately something always happened to refocus my attention, otherwise I might well have dropped off.

Did one of the corps have a fall? Out of the corner of my eye, while looking at another part of the screen, I saw her pick herself up from the floor. I wondered if she had slipped over. She rose in a suitably graceful manner, so it might have been part of the choreography. An advantage of being ignorant as to what should have been happening, is that I am not disappointed if something goes wrong, unless it’s obvious.

I couldn't see a "snake". Had somebody forgotten to put it in the bouquet?

Act II. I can quite see why this is sometimes presented as a showpiece by itself. It stands out as the highlight of the ballet – and yet has very little, if any, part to play in the narrative story. What a beautiful, magical experience to see it performed so well. Perfection in this very difficult piece would surely be almost impossible, but the wonderful RB corps got very close. As for the three main shades, I can only echo the praise of the more knowledgeable on this forum. Unlike another poster, I found Yuhui Choe as impressive as the two others, but then I don't know what the choreography should be.

Act III. Again, my ignorance as to what should actually have been seen, meant that I was less disappointed than others with such things as the relative invisibility of what was going on behind the “scrim” (what this is, is another thing I learned from this forum), and also with the darkness of the scene, which I presumed must have been meant.

The main dancers. If there were any flaws, I probably wouldn’t have noticed them. The main three were all superb as far as I could judge. The close-up view of the screen gives a good view of how good they are as actors. In this I thought Osipova was especially convincing, although I gather that some think she over-acts.

Ballet dancing at the highest level is a more physically demanding activity than any sport – apart perhaps from the Iron Man/Woman type of extreme sports – and is made even more so, because the dancers must try to hide the physical stress they are under. Even so, there are things which cannot be disguised. I suspect La Bayadère must be a very demanding ballet to dance for the principals, as at least two of them were quite visibly breathing very hard after their solos. This was especially so with Alexander Campbell after his solo, and the bronze “skin” seemed to highlight this.

The curtain calls were among the most touching I have seen, because of the inclusion of Natalia Makarova. If this performance is ever released as a DVD, I shall buy it, and among the other highlights, note the reactions of the cast, and especially Osipova, to the appearance of this “high priestess” among them.

One final thought concerning that dreaded, and much misused, term “Political Correctness”, which parts of the media, and the far right which they serve, have managed to make a worse crime than racism, sexism, xenophobia etc.,  and has enabled all these sorts of things to be revitalised in a virulent form. The original use of the term did have some validity however, and there are certainly some incidents, especially those concerned with student politics, where the term is correctly used to indicate an unjustified, often inane, sort of over-preciousness about “offence”. So how are we to judge La Bayadère, without falling into that trap?

I use a rule to judge these matters. Does  the item – book, play, film, comic act, ballet – etc. have the effect of inciting, increasing, or entrenching, distrust, dislike, hatred, misunderstanding, towards particular ethnic groups, races etc.?

It seems obvious to me that La Bayadère does not incite dislike or hatred towards Indians. Nor does it make them into comic figures, which is a perhaps valid criticism of the Chinese dance in The Nutcracker.

Anyone who is not prejudiced against Indians will not be made so by La Bayadère (unless they are very odd people with mental problems). La Bayadère is clearly an example of fantasies about the Orient, and may be an example of “Orientalism”, but if so, it is a mild and harmless form of this. To object to it, is really PC gone mad. And as some have already pointed out in this thread, there are far more serious issues and dangers which face humans today.

 

Edited by FrankH
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Keenly awaiting reviews of the Ball, Cuthbertson and Magri cast.... pretty please. Going Saturday but dying to know what people thought of this particular casts first night.

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1 hour ago, Kate said:

Keenly awaiting reviews of the Ball, Cuthbertson and Magri cast.... pretty please. Going Saturday but dying to know what people thought of this particular casts first night.

Your in for a treat.

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I've just been reminded about something about the cinema showing: was it just my cinema, or was there something slightly off for a while in the betrothal scene?  Started more or less with the "short" girls in pink (as opposed to the "tall" girls in coral), and carried through into the early part of Solor and Gamzatti's bit as well.  Something slightly wrong with the rendition of the movement, that made it look just a touch ... robotic, or artificial, maybe standing out a little oddly from the background, or something?  I know I thought it didn't look quite right somehow.

 

Talking to other people at the ROH last night, there did seem to be quite a consensus that the live relay didn't quite meet the heights of last (?)Thursday's performance, which was also filmed.  If a DVD is to be produced, I hope they don't feel the need to stick as slavishly as possible to what went out in the cinema for it.

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Oh, and talking of tall and short, it seems to me very much, at corps level, that this is a "tall" girl's ballet.  What, apart from the Shades, do the "short" girls do?  Just the dance with the fans in the betrothal scene?

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8 minutes ago, alison said:

Talking to other people at the ROH last night, there did seem to be quite a consensus that the live relay didn't quite meet the heights of last (?)Thursday's performance, which was also filmed.  If a DVD is to be produced, I hope they don't feel the need to stick as slavishly as possible to what went out in the cinema for it.

 

 They "pick and mix" for a DVD.

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