The idea of the ballet La Bayadere came from the choreographer Marius Petipa in 1876. He drew up a libretto plan, for the development of which he invited journalist, critic and ballet historian Sergei Khudekov. The choreographer entrusted the composer Ludwig Minkus, his permanent co-author, with creating the score.
The plot is based on the drama of the ancient Indian poet Kalidasa “Shakuntala”, as well as the ballad of Johann Wolfgang Goethe “God and the Bayadere”. In addition, Petipa also took advantage of the ideas of his brother Lucien, who staged the ballet Shakuntala based on a script by Théophile Gaultier in 1858 in Paris. From this performance, Marius took plot moves, the names of the characters, the images of the heroine and her insidious rival, the villain-priest. At the same time, in the opinion of the theater historian Yuri Slonimsky, the content and choreographic embodiment of the production as a whole can be regarded as original. “Petipa melted someone else’s material so that it became his own for him, entered his own work organically, acquired features of novelty,” wrote the critic. This performance became a landmark for a whole period in the history of world ballet, summed up the findings and conquests of the dance theater.
In La Bayadère, the theme of inner freedom, striving for happiness and love through the opposition of injustice and violence, which was important for the art of the second half of the 19th century, was powerfully expressed. In addition, ballet gives the modern viewer an idea of the luxury of the visual embodiment of the performances of that time. The choreography organically combined the brilliance and solemnity of the crowd scenes, the spectacular divertissement with the deeply psychological line of the heroine’s personal drama, Nikia’s bayadere. “There were no empty spaces in her choreographic part,” noted the ballerina and teacher Vera Krasovskaya. – Each posture, movement, gesture expressed this or that emotional impulse, explained this or that character trait.
The plotless scene of The Shadows in the third act of the play deserves special attention. In terms of the level of poetic generalization, she, perhaps, has no equal in the history of world ballet. This is a complex pattern, in which duets and solo numbers of the heroes, variations of the shadow soloists are woven into a single whole. And most importantly, the corps de ballet in this episode acts not as a background for the soloists, but as their full partner.
Having created this choreographic composition, Marius Petipa predetermined the appearance of the so-called symphonic ballet, which George Balanchine and Serge Lifar developed already in the 20th century.
The action takes place in India in ancient times
During the hunt for the tiger, the warrior Solor instructs the fakir Magedavey to inform his beloved, bayadère Nikiya, that he will be waiting for her at the entrance to the temple. There the fire worship ceremony begins. The Great Brahmin, Brahmatshora and Bayadere, among whom is Nikiya, solemnly emerges. They perform ritual dances. The great brahmin declares his love to Nikiya, but she rejects his feelings.
At nightfall, the girl secretly meets with Solor. The young man invites his beloved to run away. Their conversation is overheard by the Great Brahmin. He wants revenge.
Raja Dugmanta announces his intention to marry his daughter Gamzatti to Solor. The young warrior tries to give up this honor, but the monarch is adamant. The great Brahmin tells the ruler about the love of Nikiya and Solor. The Raja decides to kill the bayadere.
Gamzatti, having overheard the conversation between the father and the priest, orders to call Nikiya. Telling the one that she is getting married, she shows the portrait of the betrothed and offers her rival wealth in exchange for Solor. The enraged bayadere rushes at the princess with a dagger, but the slave girl stops the girl. The Raja’s daughter announces the death sentence to Nikiya.
Nikiya is invited to entertain guests at the wedding of Gamzatti and Solor. By order of the raja, the dancer is presented with a basket of flowers. A snake hidden there mortally wounds the girl. The great Brahmin offers the Bayadere an antidote, but she refuses. As she dies, she reminds Solor that he promised to love her forever.
The inconsolable Solor repents of his betrayal. Shadows appear in his imagination, among which is the beautiful Nikia. She calls him to follow her.
Ballet in 3 acts
Story by Sergey KHUDYAKOV and Marius PETIPA
Choreography by Marius PETIPA
Choreographers contributed to the production:
Mykola ZUBKOVSKY, Honoured Artist of Russia
Konstantin SERGEYEV, People’s Artist of the USSR
Vakhtang CHABUKIANI, People’s Artist of the USSR