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The new Royal Ballet season got off to a spiffing start on Saturday night with La Bayadère. The staging is Natalya Makarova’s very intelligent pruning and editing of the old Petipa spectacular, with dance and drama heightened in effect. Samaritani’s design is an exemplary show of Italian scene-painting’s magic and mystery; Yolanda Sonnabend’s costumes offer glamour and the proper gleam of bijoux; and the company was on its very best form.
The luminous army of Shades deserved the prolonged applause after their entrance, a grand cascade of arabesques and white tulle pouring out of the night, borne on the repetitions of Minkus’s insidious little musical phrase. There were commandingly good portrayals of the High Brahmin (Gary Avis, torn by passion as Nikiya rejects him, hand raised to his head in a wonderfully expressive arc) and of the Fakir Magdaveya from Kenta Kura, shaping the role in frenzied leaps. And all this to frame three magnificent readings: Tamara Rojo as Nikiya, Marianela Nuñez as Gamzatti, Carlos Acosta as Solor.
Rojo finds a mysterious purity for the heroine, both in temperament and in dance. You sense the inner dignity of the character, the temple-dancer’s trusting belief in Solor, and you see the dance offered with no less nobility of spirit. Of course, Rojo’s technique is commanding, and in turning steps there is a kind of secretive bravura – few ballerine in my experience have produced such ravishing (and ravishingly generous) pirouettes in the Shades scene’s variation. (I still gasp at their unobtrusive ease.) And how sweetly a phrase seems to finish with the perfect arch of her instep, the eye following a line that is completed, fulfilled, by this exquisite curve.
Nuñez plays Gamzatti with a mask of brilliant hauteur and dances with no less brilliancy. In the betrothal Grand Pas she draws the choreography in vivid, unerring lines of happiest assurance, her jump free, almost defiant of the stage.
And Acosta soars, turns, beats, offers effortless wonders, and gives the faithless hero as much of a haunted air as the drama will allow. The entire ensemble I thought was on best form, and the final moments when the temple collapses are better managed, more convincing, than I have seen before. In sum, a tremendous start to the season: laurels and bouquets to all concerned.