La Bayadère, Royal Opera House, London – review

On Saturday night the Bolshoi Ballet showed us La Bayadère and gave London its first sight of Olga Smirnova (stress the second syllable), its newest talent. At the age of 21 she is an undoubted marvel. I reported last autumn on her Moscow appearances in Balanchine’s Diamonds – a role she repeats here next week – and on the ravishing qualities of her dancing, notably in the unaffected beauties of her upper body, with an exquisite dialogue between head and shoulders and the placing of the arms.

These gave nuance to her account of Nikiya, the eponymous bayadère (temple dancer), not least in the moonlit raptures of the Kingdom of the Shades scene that ends the staging, as the ghostly Nikiya forgives the faithless hero, Solor. (She bends, all grace, over his shoulder, tells him: “Remember your vow!” Smirnova imbues this moment with intensest feeling, truth.) Everywhere we understand: Smirnova is an artist of glorious potential. She is young, and must find her way into the great roles she is – rightfully – inheriting, and we rejoice in this bright dawn of her talents.

Yury Grigorovich’s staging is handsome in Nikolay Sharonov’s design, traditional in manner, and ends poetically with Solor abandoned in the ghostly realm of the Shades. The Bolshoi’s artists are displayed with ideal sympathy. Other troupes might note that in the Shades scene, the corps de ballet wear carefully muted pointe shoes and the 32 revenants (more effective than the 24 we are accustomed to) seem spectrally silent. The Bolshoi’s blessed legion dance ravishingly on this pianissimo, and we believe.

The trio of Shades – Anastasia Stashkevich, Daria Khokhlova, Chinara Alizade – were vaporous divinities. Semyon Chudin’s Solor was ardent, brave in dance-means, credible. Ekaterina Krysanova was Gamsatti, a role whose claim for audience sympathy is on terms of technical brilliancy, which Krysanova handsomely met, and the great dialogue with Nikiya was emotionally vivid. The divertissements in the second act were given with exuberant bravura – even unto fierce drumming, parrots on sticks, and smirking child performers – and Anton Savichev’s fakir and Alexander Fadeyechev’s tormented Chief Brahmin were admirable. An opulent staging, opulently danced.

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