ABT’s full-length production was staged by prima ballerina Markova in 1980, based on the version she had danced when she was with the Kirov. Lanksy said Makarova still comes in to rehearse the dancers.
Part of the difficulty in staging either the “Shades” scene or the full-length ballet for decades was that the full-length score by composer Ludwig Minkus was not available outside the Soviet Union. John Lachberry, the conductor of the Royal Opera House in London, composed music for the missing sections for both Makarova’s production and an earlier staging of the “Shades” scene by Rudolf Nureyev for the Royal Ballet.
The “Shades” scene is one of the most famous in ballet, featuring a 24-member corps de ballet; it is right up there with the other romantic classic scenes, like the swans’ entrance in Swan Lake or the ghostly Willis in Act II of Giselle. It is also a reminder of the pastiche that is La Bayadere’s storyline — what two dozen women in white tutus have to do with ancient India is not a question that bears too much thinking about. It’s a ballet to just sit back and enjoy instead of wondering if the story makes sense.
“It’s the kind of ballet, kind of story that ABT does well. Incredible dancing, big costumes and scenery,” Lansky said.
La Bayadere is a ballet about eternal love, about giving up things for the one you love. The story revolves around the temple dancer Nikiya and the warrior Solar, who have pledged themselves to each other. However, their rajah has selected Solar to be the husband of his daughter, Gamzatti, while the temple’s high priest is in love with Nikiya. There’s a lot of secret plotting and jealous rivalry and you know it’s going to end badly for Nikiya. In the end she chooses to die from a snakebite instead of giving up Solor.
A forlorn and bereft Solor smokes opium and dreams of Nikiya’s ghost in a nirvana-like wonderland (the Kingdom of the Shades), but when he wakes up, the planning for his wedding to Gamzatti is underway. However, the gods, outraged by Nikiya’s death, destroy the temple during the wedding, killing everyone inside. Like the ending of Swan Lake, La Bayadere closes with Nikiya and Solor reunited in death, heading off to eternal happiness.
As an added bonus for balletgoers, the company will be appearing with the Evergreen Orchestra for all five shows.