“La Bayadère” debuted in St. Petersburg in 1877, the same year as “Swan Lake,” and it has the same romantic charge. Indian temple dancer Nikiya is coveted by the High Brahmin, but she and the hunter Solor have already pledged eternal love. The Rajah, however, wants Solor to marry his daughter; Gamzatti is beautiful, and that leaves Solor conflicted.
It also leaves Nikiya in peril, since both the Rajah and Gamzatti are plotting her demise. The ballet itself, in its modern incarnation, is so overgrown with fakirs, temple dancers, tiger hunters, and a papier-mâché elephant — not to mention the mesmerizing third-act “Kingdom of the Shades” — that you can easily lose sight of the powerful plot. Thursday night at the Opera House, Boston Ballet, led by Lia Cirio’s Nikiya, Lasha Khozashvili’s Solor, and Dusty Button’s Gamzatti, managed to keep the focus on the feelings.
Natalia Makarova, in her 1980 reconstruction of “La Bayadère” for the American Ballet Theatre, pared down the character dances, ditched the elephant, and restored the original fourth act, in which, after Nikiya’s death by snake bite, Solor is prevailed upon to wed Gamzatti, but the gods, angered by the death of their temple dancer, flatten the temple and release Solor to dance in heaven with Nikiya. Boston Ballet’s “Bayadère,” which was previously seen in 2000 and 2010, descends from the lush three-act version that Rudolf Nureyev created for the Paris Opera Ballet.
The D’Jampe Dance with scarves, the Parrot Dance, the Manu water jug teaser, and the high-kicking “Indian” (probably as in Native American) number don’t advance the plot, but they do show off the company and are fun to watch. Sergiy Spevyakin’s sets, especially the russet and brown palace with its scrollwork, pass muster but his costumes could look more luxe.
Khozashvili and Cirio were also the opening-night Solor and Nikiya in the 2010 production, which, like the current one, was choreographed by Florence Clerc after the original by Marius Petipa. This was the best performance I’ve seen from the two of them, in anything.
Khozashvili has better control of his jumps now, and Cirio is more sinuous and less angular than she was in 2010. They make a vulnerable, almost virginal pair. Button was not with the company in 2010, and her proud, imperious Gamzatti is still coming into focus; she could bend just a bit more to seduce Solor and the audience.
Arthur Leeth gave the Rajah spontaneity and gravitas; Bo Busby was poignant as the lovelorn High Brahmin; Altan Dugaraa didn’t overact as the athletically agitated Lead Fakir. Jeffrey Cirio made the demanding Golden Idol solo look easy — he’s quicker and more assured than he was when he did the role in 2010. A wide-eyed Rie Ichikawa pointed prettily the polka steps of the Manu dance; Dalay Parrondo and Paul Craig sparked the “Indian” kickline.
The “white” third act, Solor’s opium dream, begins with the Entrance of the Shades, who descend a zigzag ramp in a slow, hypnotic alternation of arabesques and backbends.
Both the 24 women and the Boston Ballet Orchestra under Jonathan McPhee sustained a singing line over the nearly 10 minutes. There was great technique on display from the three solo Shades: Ashley Ellis made simple passé-relevé look magical, Misa Kuranaga ate up the stage with her relevé-élancé arabesque run, and Kathleen Breen Combes showed off creamy cabrioles.
Khozashvili contributed a creditable set of double assemblé turns; Cirio’s Nikiya served up luscious développés and blazed through her closing sequence of soutenu turns, arabesques voyagés, and piqué turns.
But the best part of this “Bayadère” is the conclusion, when, as the Shades process back up the ramp, Nikiya follows and takes Solor with her in an affecting gesture of forgiveness and love.