Marius Petipa’s exotic La Bayadère was given its premiere at the Bolshoi Theatre in St Petersburg in 1877. It was regularly performed within the former Soviet Union throughout the 20th century but was almost unknown in the West until 1961, when the touring Kirov Ballet performed the famous Kingdom of the Shades scene. Natalia Makarova saw the ballet as a child in Leningrad and created this version for American Ballet Theatre in 1980.
Legendary India provides the setting for a tale of love, murder and vengeful judgement by the gods, set to a lyrical score by Ludwig Minkus. The choreography provides powerful moments for the two opposing ballerinas – the beautiful temple dancer, Nikiya, and her jealous rival, Gamzatti – while a bronze idol comes vividly to life in a stunning solo. La Bayadère’s most frequently performed sequence is the dream-like Kingdom of the Shades, when a mesmerizing procession of ballerinas dance in unison across a moonlit stage. Opulent designs by Yolanda Sonnabend perfectly fit the ballet’s fevered exoticism.
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