Cal Performances provided a rare opportunity earlier this month to see one of the foremost companies of our time — St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra — perform “La Bayadère,” one of the most beloved of classical ballets.
Choreographed in 1877 by Marius Petipa and performed on a set based on a traditional storybook vision of 19th century tropical India, the ballet centers on the romance between an exquisite temple dancer, Nikia, and Solor, a rich warrior — a liaison that ends tragically.
But there are no tragic outcomes for the audience.
The dancing throughout is mesmerizing.
Ekaterina Kondaurova’s torso and arms move with utter strength and grace as Nikia, powering her across the stage to embrace Solor.
Andrei Yermakov’s Solor has the strength and agility of someone unaware of his myriad talents.
Yekaterina Chebykina, as Gamzatti, the rajah’s daughter, makes ample dramatic use of her deftly danced solos.
And David Zaleyev is the nimblest and most light-footed of golden idols.
The crown jewel of the ballet is the the third act “Kingdom of the Shades,” in which a procession of white-clad corps women repeat identical arabesques as they move across the stage, each perfectly reproducing the steps of the dancer preceding her.
The color and motion of the first two acts yields to the white whisper of the third, as the dancers proceed, as if into infinity, an endless line of figures mirroring each other.
After the elaborate storytelling, bright costumes and varied dances of the first two acts, there is a transcendent peace to the largely monochromatic, mostly plotless “Kingdom of the Shades,” as if all has been abstracted into its unforgettable form.