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Ballet Review | Boston Ballet amazes with production of ‘La Bayadère’

Published: Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 01:10

The Boston Ballet unveiled “La Bayadère” this weekend, the first full-length ballet of its much anticipated 50th season. Returning to its main venue — the Boston Opera House — for performances of “La Bayadère,” the company was in full form after two earlier events this fall. The more informal locations of productions like “Night of Stars” and “BB@Home” — staged at the Boston Common and the Boston Ballet’s Back Bay school and headquarters, respectively — provided the one-night performances with a unique atmosphere: The outdoor setting for “Night of Stars” was fun and refreshing, while “BB@Home” was a more intimate experience for viewers. Yet neither venue was able to truly capture the excitement and luxuriousness of the Boston Opera House.

With a marble lobby, crystal chandeliers and intricate cream and gold ceiling ornamentation, the decor of the Boston Opera House alone promises a glamorous and unforgettable evening. The building itself often leaves visitors with high expectations for the featured productions, and “La Bayadère” certainly did not disappoint. From the moment the curtain rose to reveal the luscious setting in the jungles of India, audience members were transported to a romantic world of mysterious temples, sumptuous palaces and — most importantly — beautiful dancing.

A beloved piece of classical ballet, “La Bayadère” tells the tragic tale of complicated love. Nikiya, the best of the temple dancers — known as the bayadères — attracts the admiration and affection of young warrior Solor with her dancing. However, when Solor becomes betrothed to the haughty princess Gamzatti, the two women become embroiled in a bitter and volatile conflict. A love triangle develops, bringing with it eruptions of passion, anger and jealousy — and catastrophic results.

Originally choreographed by Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg in 1877, the Boston Ballet’s version of “La Bayadère” featured Florence Clerc’s later adaptation of the work. Though the ballet’s choreography is famously difficult, the Boston Ballet company generally rose to meet this challenge.

Jeffrey Cirio thrilled as Solor, performing technically demanding solos while exuding the deep feelings of a distraught lover — becoming an instant audience favorite in the process. Similarly, Misa Kuranga, dancing the part of Nikiya, gave many flawless solo performances, drawing on an unparalleled level of control during complex sequences and fouettés. 

But despite the individual excellence of these two, their partner work was somewhat less impressive. Perhaps due to lack of trust or creative chemistry, Cirio and Kuranga’s combined performance remained rigid, and — at times — tense. In the first act of the ballet, characters Solor and Nikiya share a passionate encounter; unfortunately, in this particular scene the dancers seemed uncomfortable, resulting in a few uncertain lifts and a lot of squandered potential.

Although certainly not disastrous for the production, these moments were missing the power they needed to transform a great duet into an extraordinary one. Thankfully, the pas de deux shared by Cirio and Kathleen Breen Combes (Gamzatti) was much stronger, bringing an extra flourish and finish to their work.

The music, provided by a full orchestra and conducted by Jonathan McPhee, was also superb. Careful not to overpower the action on stage, the music beautifully supported the Boston Ballet dancers. Another production highlight was the intermittently bright and soft lighting (designed by John Cuff) in the final act of the ballet — during Solor’s hallucination in the jungle — which lent the eerie effect of twinkling stars and dappled moonlight to the scene.

Most interesting, however, were Sergiy Spevyakin’s contributions to the original set and costume design. Together, scenery and costuming created a thought-provoking dynamic in the color palette of the production. For instance, Act I, scene I overwhelmingly featured cool tones. With the dark, purplish-green hues of the jungle leaves and the bayadères and Solor all adorned in light blue shades, the colors complemented each other perfectly. While the middle sections of the work brought in progressively warmer tones — beige, gold and burnt orange — bright color was carefully rationed throughout the work. Within this framework, the vibrant red of Nikiya’s costume during her fateful dance at Solor and Gamzatti’s engagement celebration is as vivid as a drop of ruby blood. Though initially the choice to restrict color may seem strange given the vibrant and colorful setting of ancient India, it helps to heighten the contrast of passion and melancholy that brings emotional tension to “La Bayadère.”

“La Bayadère” will be showing at the Boston Opera House until Nov. 3. Tickets are available for purchase online at bostonballet.org or by calling (617)-695-6955.

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