St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre

La Bayadère

ballet by Ludwig Minkus

Yekaterina Kondaurova in the ballet


Premiere: 23 January 1877, Bolshoi Theatre, St Petersburg
Premiere of Vladimir Ponomarev and Vakhtang Chabukiani´s version: 10 February 1941, Kirov Theatre of Opera and Ballet (Mariinsky Theatre)

Running time 2 hours 55 minutes
The performance has two intervals

Age category 6+


Music by Ludwig Minkus
Choreography by Marius Petipa (1877)
Revised choreography by Vladimir Ponomarev and Vakhtang Chabukiani (1941)
with dances by Konstantin Sergeyev and Nikolai Zubkovsky
Libretto by Marius Petipa and Sergei Khudekov

Set design by Mikhail Shishliannikov after
(set designs by Adolf Kvapp, Konstantin Ivanov, Pyotr Lambin and Orest Allegri)
Costumes by Yevgeny Ponomarev
Lighting Design by Mikhail Shishliannikov


Act I
Scene 1
Led by Solor, a group of young warriors is hunting a tiger. Breaking away from them, Solor persuades the fakir Magdaveya to arrange a rendezvous for him with the bayadère Nikia, one of the dancers who serves the temple’s sacred flame within. The High Brahmin comes out of the temple leading a solemn procession, which is a sign for the ritual of fire to begin. Fakirs and bayadères perform ritual dances and then Nikia, the fairest of all the bayadères, appears.
Although he has taken vows of celibacy and is leader of the temple’s priesthood, the High Brahmin confesses to Nikia that he loves her, and he promises her wealth and power if she will be his. Nikia rejects his love. Night falls and Solor and Nikia meet secretly while Magdaveya keeps watch, though this does not prevent the High Brahmin from eavesdropping on their assignation. Solor asks Nikia to flee with him. She consents, but first demands his vow of eternal fidelity.

Scene 2
The Rajah tells his daughter, Gamzatti, that she will meet and marry the man to whom she was betrothed when still a child. The Rajah introduces Solor to his daughter. Solor is enraptured by Gamzatti’s beauty, but is thrown into confusion as he remembers Nikia and the vows he has just made to her.
The time for the marriage to be consecrated is close and Nikia is requested to dance in the holy rites.
The High Brahmin enters and tells the Rajah of the love vows he has overheard between Nikia and Solor. The Rajah is incensed, but his decision remains unchanged: Solor will marry his daughter and the bayadère will die. The High Brahmin did not expect such an outcome and reminds the Rajah of the vengeance of the gods if their servant should be killed at the temple.
Gamzatti overheard the conversation. She summons a slave girl to bring Nikia to her. When she appears, Gamzatti tells her of the approaching wedding, showing a portrait of Solor as the man she is to marry. Nikia is horror-struck and protests that Solor has in fact sworn eternal fidelity to her alone… The Rajah’s daughter haughtily demands that she should relinquish him, but the bayadères would prefer death. She pulls out a dagger to strike Gamzatti, but a slave girl intervenes.

Act II
The Garden before the Rajah’s Palace. Magnificent celebrations for the wedding of Solor and Gamzatti are underway and a succession of dances provides entertainment for all the guests. Nikia in her turn is ordered to dance. A slave girl brings in a basket of flowers which Dugmanta declares to be a gift to Nikia. Nikia receive it but a poisonous snake hidden in the basket slips out and bites her. The High Brahmin comes forward to offer her an antidote if only she will love him, she refuses him yet again. Nikia dies with Solor kneeling at her side.

Scene 1 
Solor is distraught and tormented by remorse. Magdaveya attempts without success to divert him from his grief, and so he calls for a snake charmer. While the man plays, Solor falls asleep to the sound of the flute.

Scene 2
Solor dreams he is in the Kingdom of Shades and, as he watches, ghosts of those long-dead appear before him. Among them he sees his beloved Nikia and she beckons to him to follow her…

La Bayadère is one of the most popular ballets in the classical legacy. It is a story of love told through demure dance duets and pantomime dialogues, large-scale corps de ballet ensembles and the striking dances of the soloists. A colourful and vast canvas, woven together using highly complex choreographic language, La Bayadère is a test of professionalism, the sparkle of the ballerina and the male principal and the acting abilities of the performers. Marius Petipa created this production in 1877 for the gala performance of the virtuoso ballerina Yekaterina Vazem in an attempt to showcase the talent of his favourite ballerina as fully as possible and which would be worthy of the setting. Petipa laid out his dance poem based on a plot about the love between a noble Indian warrior and a temple dancer. The exotic flavour was to be a keystone of the spectacle, while the melodramatic story of a love deceived, typical for the theatre in the middle of the 19th century, was simple in terms of its literary exposition; in its choreographic revelations Petipa filled it with depth, nuances and generalisations. The structure of the production was moulded by the brilliant flair of the choreographer who knew how to blend together the necessary proportions of the grand divertissement of a palace celebration and the piercing emotion of the abandoned heroine's tragic monologue, the tense emotionality of the pantomime depiction of worldly events and the aloofness of classical dance in the Kingdom of Shades. With the passing of time this structure was altered. In the 20th century La Bayadère "lost weight" by dropping an entire act – the rationalsim of the Soviet view of the world rejected the use of simple-hearted props to depict retribution for breaking an oath, and along with the final destruction of the palace the ballet also lost its dramatic and dance dénouement. The realities of 19th century theatre that remained in the ballet, plush tigers and elephants on wheels look touchingly amusing today, but their modest specific details set off the timeless harmony of the act of the Shades, Petipa's bewitching masterpiece in which his genius was as never before close to absolute perfection. Olga Makarova

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