Moscow’s Ballet was ever associated with a bold dramatic colouring in its dancing – St Petersburg style was cooler, stressing form over feeling.

The years have minimised that contrast, but, even so, Yury Grigorovich’s staging of La Bayadère, which returned on Thursday in the Bolshoi season, invites highly charged dramatics, reminiscent of silent cinema emoting and of photographs of such exotic Bolshoi spectacles as Gorsky’s 1910 Salammbô. Rightly so. The tale is lurid; we have to believe. And believe I did.

The warrior hero Solor roars on stage, and it is Nikolai Tsiskaridze at his most opulent, the least gesture laden with meaning, each pose (and he knows how to stand and demand our attention) telling all.

And his dancing, in Solor’s few moments of bravura, is unconditional in its technical command. The chief Brahmin, Andrey Sitnikov, showed no less grandeur in his mime role, a raised arm, an expression, marvellously held, and we understand. (Memories of Gloria Swanson: “We had faces then!”)

And, at the ballet’s heart, Svetlana Zakharova as the bayadère and Maria Alexandrova as her rival, the Rajah’s daughter. Zakharova has opened her lustrous dance-gift to emotion.

Her Nikiya is stunningly beautiful, in face, in dance, and feeling now courses through her playing. The duel between the women over their love for Solor was thrilling, in its nuances of feeling and in its cataclysmic final moment when Nikiya seeks to stab Gamzatti.

Zakharova was a sudden flame; Alexandrova met fire with fire. Alexandrova has nobility in technique (the Grand pas in the second act was a magisterial display) and a subtle sense of theatre: we sympathise with an unsympathetic being.

For the rest, there were the usual high and lively jinks in the
character dances (in spite of an infestation of children: oh, for a Herod!), and a beatific vision of Shades in the final act’s apotheosis of academic dance.

The corps de ballet, the three soloists, were tremendous, Zakharova’s shade drawn in exquisite lines. There is only one failure in the staging: the final scene, when divine retribution should destroy the guilty and reunite Solor and Nikiya, is mishandled, and goes for nothing. The Bolshoi must rework it to some convincing effect.

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