First show of Boston Ballet’s 50th season is in the books!
(First show, that is, if you don’t count the special, free Night of Stars that took place on the Common in September!)
I’ve been wanting to see this ballet for a good 20+ years. When I was in the 8th grade, taking what I consider to be my first “real” ballet classes (I’d taken some form of ballet for the 5 years prior, but this was the first time I had taken it in any sort of a formal setting), the director of our studio put on a winter show. I guess you could consider it a Christmas show, though that wasn’t the main point of it. It did take place in December. And it did include a vaguely Christmas-y part (an original ballet production of the Little Match Girl). But it was part of a larger showcase that included class demonstrations and excerpts from the third act of La Bayadère.
I didn’t know anything about La Bayadère at the time, so it wasn’t until years later when I saw a clip of the Kingdom of the Shades that I realized the choreography we learned was after Petipa and the costumes were designed to resemble those from the ballet with the white bodices and tutus and the white tulle extending from our buns to our arms. I remember feeling awed to know that we had replicated, in some form, stuff that professionals have performed on stage!
So finally, FINALLY I was going to see the real deal!
One of my dance friends and I made an evening of it, starting with dinner at Teatro. The only reservation we could get was for early-ish (5pm), but it worked out splendidly since there was a pre-curtain talk taking place before the show we were going to see. We stepped in to the talk a bit late, but thankfully BB posted an excerpt which you can watch here:
We missed most of what’s in the video, but we heard the Q&A section which was omitted. One that stood out was a woman who asked about the stereotyped Native American dance. What? Wrong Indians, lady. Though once I saw the section in the show I could see how she had gotten confused and I also found a review in the newspaper that referred to the Native American dance. Seriously? Why would they randomly put a Native American segment in a show that takes place in India? Especially since the woman staging it is French! Think critically here, people. Ms. Ponomarenko did gently inform the questioner that though that dance is meant to be a tribal dance, it was meant to be a tribal dance from India. More about the stereotypes later.
Another question was about the missing fourth act. What? There’s a fourth act out there somewhere? They said that companies probably do not perform that act simply because it would make the show too long. It is kind of a long show, so I can see that, but after watching it and researching what the fourth act was about, I kind of wish they kept it. The story would make a lot more sense if it was included. Again, more on that in a minute.
Pre-curtain talk over my friend and I headed back out to the lobby for some champagne and shopping! I simply had to get one of the gorgeous tees they had for sale. I don’t buy tees for all the shows. After all, there are only so many t-shirts one can wear and some of the designs are, quite frankly, “meh”. But there are a few where they are simply spot-on and this was one of them. I don’t usually like slouchy tees, but this was silky soft and gorgeously drapey, plus there’s a sparkly stone glued to the center of the lady’s forehead. Oh, and I had my subscriber discount, so… score!
We ran into our dance company’s artistic director while we were at the gift stand so had a nice chat before we headed to our respective seats.
Quick note about these seats… as I’ve mentioned, I am a subscriber, in large part because they gave me the opportunity to subscribe at a ridiculously good price last year and allowed me to renew this year at the same rate! The seats are in the “B” section which is kind of the middle-of-the-road seats. Not obstructed view, but not primo seating. (Surprisingly “A” seating is not primo seating, either — there’s another level above A. One of these days…. one of these days.) When I renewed they asked if I wanted to keep my seats which were up in the balcony. I liked my seats fine, but after seeing Book of Mormon from the orchestra level I decided I might like to be down there instead. So I asked for best available in my price group on that level. Well, dear reader, my new seats are incredible. Off to the left side, but towards the center, about halfway down. The view was amazing!
Okay, back to the show. Curtain goes up on Act I, in which the scene is set. The High Brahmin digs Nikiya, one of the temple dancers, but she’s all gaga over Solor (me, too… I mean, it was being played by Jeffrey Cirio!). High Brahmin is not cool with getting snubbed, so he plans to bump off his rival, because that seems like a reasonable way to win a lady. But turns out that the Rajah thinks Solor is pretty cool and thus should marry his daughter Gamzatti. He shows Gamzatti Solor’s picture (which he just happens to have hanging around) and she’s smitten with his dashing good looks. She’s kind of a looker herself, it seems, because that two-timing Solor sees her and forgets his pact of life-long love with Nikiya and jumps on board with marrying this other girl. Jerk. The High Brahmin still has his knickers in a twist, so he decides to tattle on Solor and Nikiya thinking that the Rajah will join him in the plan to bump off Solor, but OOPS, instead Rajah decides that Nikiya should be the one swimming in cement shoes. Gamzatti tries to help out this poor, unsuspecting girl by saying, “This man is mine, why don’t you just turn your pretty little ass around and go after someone else.” Oh, c’mon, Gamzatti. That NEVER works! Nikiya in turn goes a little crazy on her rival and allllmost kills her, but doesn’t succeed and runs off in horror. Which, not surprisingly, is not a great way to win friends and influence people. So now Gamzatti and Rajah are both on board with getting rid of this pest. Curtain closes.
Act II takes place in the palace garden where Gamzatti and Solor are celebrating their engagement and guess who has to dance at the celebration… Nikiya. What could go wrong? Well, Nikiya could be handed a basket of flowers which she thinks was sent by Solor, but turns out to be a gift from Rajah and Gamzatti. And instead of a nice little note card informing her of the sender, they include a poisonous snake. I guess that got the message across just as clearly. Solor, in all his infinite wisdom, takes off with Gamzatti and Nikiya, seeing this, refuses the antidote and dies.
So now it’s time for Act III and guess who is now feeling like a heel? Yup, Solor. So, how best to deal with realizing you’re a major two-timing jerk? Get high. Duh. So a few puffs on the opium pipe and… what’s this? A bunch of white spectres comes down a ramp and Nikiya is with them and he dreams that she forgives him and takes him back to her otherworldly home.
Except, I mean, kind of a weak ending, right? Because we know Solor is still in his drugged-up stupor and he’s going to come out of it so… then what? Well, I looked up the fourth act and it turns out that in that he does in fact wake up and has to go get married to Gamzatti, but the gods get kinda p.o.’ed about the whole thing and strike everyone dead and then Solor’s and Nikiya’s shades are reunited and sent to the Himalayas. Still kind of unsatisfying that Solor still gets the girl after all the crap he’s pulled, but maybe shades are more forgiving than I. But at least it gives an actual closure to the plot.
The dancing was lovely for the most part. Act II in particular was quite impressive and the Indians dance was probably my favorite. It was just so energetic and thrilling. I could see why people may have gotten it confused with it being a Native American dance as the dancers wore feathered headpieces and carried drums. What I took away from it, however, is that there are incredible commonalities among dances throughout the world. People are made to dance, are made to create rhythm and move to those rhythms. It’s what we do, no matter where we’re from.
Back to the dancing. Things got a bit shaky in Act III, though I wasn’t completely upset by this. The Kingdom of the Shades is known for being one of THE corps pieces. In ballet we’re all about the soloists, but to have a large corps dancing together in unison is really incredible. You can fudge some stuff as a soloist, but there’s no wiggle room when you’re in a group of 23 other women all doing the same thing. I also know that this is purported to be a particularly challenging piece due to the length and repetitive nature of the opening. I saw a few bobbles in the corps. One the one hand this does mar some of the illusion of effortlessness, but as a dancer it was somewhat relieving to see that we amateurs are not alone in dealing with the challenges of ballet.
The acting in the show… was okay. I’m not sure that this is a critique of the dancers, though, as much as it is of story ballets. There is SO much to tell in a very short time that I don’t know that it’s possible to express the requisite range of emotions and make it believable.
Costumes and sets, as always, were incredible. There was a small lighting glitch at the start of the third act when the shades enter coming down the ramps. I’m not sure what happened, but the light did not come up as it should have and I could hear some frantic wrangling of a spotlight behind me. I can only imagine what those shades were thinking as they descended the ramp in the near dark! Luckily all recovered within a minute or two. And the orchestra remained superb throughout.
Overall a lovely evening at the ballet. Glad to have finally be able to say that I’ve seen La Bayadère and loved the glitter that BB brought to the stage.