Grand ballet in four acts and seven scenes with an apotheosis
Music by Ludwig Minkus
Libretto by Marius Petipa and Sergei Khudekov
1877 décor by Mikhail Bocharov (Act 1, scene 1), Matvei Shishkov (Act 1, scene 2 and Act 2), Ivan Andreyev (Act 3, scenes 1 and 3), Heinrich Wagner (Act 3, scene 2) and Andrei Roller (Act 4 and apotheosis)
Costumes by Ivan Panov
1900 décor by Adolf Kvapp (Act 1, scene 1), Konstantin Ivanov (Act 1, scene 2, Act 4 and apotheosis), Petr Lambin (Act 2, Act 3, scenes 1 and 2) and Orest Allegri (Act 3, scene 2)
4th February [O.S. 23rd January] 1877
Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, Saint Petersburg
Original 1877 Cast
The Great Brahmin
Première of Petipa’s final revival
16th December [O.S. 3rd December] 1900
Imperial Mariinsky Theatre
Original 1900 Cast
The Great Brahmin
The Three Shades
Set in legendary India, La Bayadère tells the story of the doomed love between the noble warrior, Solor and the beautiful temple dancer, Nikiya, who is murdered by her jealous rival, Gamzatti. In the aftermath, Solor’s grief brings him to the heavenly realm of the Kingdom of the Shades in an opium-induced dream, where his beloved appears among the many shades and tenderly forgives him for his betrayal. However, Gamzatti’s murderous triumph is short-lived as her actions provoke the wrath of the gods. In retaliation, the gods destroy the temple, killing all who are responsible for Nikiya’s death, and Nikiya is reunited with her beloved Solor beyond the reach of man.
La Bayadère is the most famous and celebrated of Petipa’s exotic ballets. Set in Ancient India, it touches on the theme of the oriental exotic, which was a very common theme used throughout 19th century ballet, with the creations of such ballets as Filippo Taglioni’s Le Dieu et la Bayadère, which premièred in Paris in 1830. In 1838, the fascination with the exotic increased when a troupe of dancers from India visited Paris. Petipa’s inspiration for La Bayadère was likely to have been the Prince of Wales’s visit to India in 1875, which was covered by every European newspaper and magazine. Another possible source of inspiration could have been his brother Lucien’s ballet Sacountala, which premièred at the Paris Opèra on the 14th July 1858, which was based on the play of the same name by the Indian poet Kalidasa.
Despite the ballet’s setting in Ancient India, Ludwig Minkus’s music, even in the character numbers, makes barely any gesture to traditional forms of Indian dance and music. The ballet was essentially a vision of the Southern Orient through 19th century European eyes. Although some sections of Minkus’s score contain melodies that are reminiscent of the Southern Orient, his score is a definitive example of the musique dansante in vogue at that time and does not stray at all from the usual string of lightly orchestrated melodious polkas, adagios, Viennese-style waltzes and the like. In that same regard, Petipa’s choreography contained various elements that reminded the spectator of the ballet’s setting, but never once did the Ballet Master stray from the canon of classical ballet.
La Bayadère was created and staged for the benefit performance of Ekaterina Vazem, who was cast as Nikiya. In her memoirs, Vazem reflects on how the ballet was her favourite:
In the ballet my next new part was that of the bayadère Nikiya in ‘La Bayadère’, produced by Petipa for my benefit performance at the beginning of 1877. Of all the ballets which I had occasion to create, this was my favourite. I liked its beautiful, very theatrical scenario, its interesting, lively dances in the most varied genres, and finally Minkus’s music, which the composer managed especially well as regards melody and its co-ordination with the character of the scenes and dances – (Memoirs of a Ballerina of the St Petersburg Bolshoy Theatre, 1867-1884)
Petipa spent almost six months staging La Bayadère. During the rehearsals, he clashed with Ekaterina Vazem over the matter of her entrance in the ballet’s final Grand Pas d’action of the fourth act, while also experiencing many problems with the set designers who constructed the ballet’s elaborate stage effects. Petipa was also worried that his new work would play to an empty house, as the Director Karl Kister increased the ticket prices to be higher than the Italian Opera, which at the time were expensive. However, when the ballet premièred on the 4th February [O.S. 23rd January] 1877, it was a renowned success, with the most celebrated passage being Petipa’s grand vision scene known as The Kingdom of the Shades. In 1900, Petipa staged his final revival of La Bayadère for the dual benefit performances of Pavel Gerdt and Matilda Kschessinskaya. For his 1900 revival, Petipa made some changes, including changing the name of the Rajah’s daughter from Hamsatti to Gamzatti and changed the setting of The Kingdom of the Shades (see below for more details). Petipa’s revival of La Bayadère premièred on the 16th December [O.S. 3rd December] 1900, with Kschessinskaya as Nikiya, Gerdt as Solor and Olga Preobrazhenskaya as Gamzatti.
Petipa’s production of La Bayadère was performed for the final time by the Imperial Ballet in 1916. The ballet was notated circa. 1905 in the Stepanov notation method and is part of the Sergeyev Collection.
La Bayadère in the 20th Century
The first revival of La Bayadère was staged by Alexander Gorsky for the Imperial Bolshoi Ballet in 1904, which subsequently underwent several revivals. In 1917, Gorsky substituted his revival with a more radical version, which included finishing with a “wedding feast” as the highlight with all kinds of quasi-authentic Indian arm and finger positions. He also made some quite drastic changes to the Kingdom of the Shades scene, including the use of much more quasi-authentic Indian-style costumes for the shades. The scene was later restored to its original scenario, or at least a version closer to it, by the Bolshoi Premier Danseur Vasily Tikhomirov in 1923.
After the 1917 Revolution, La Bayadère reappeared at the former Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in a new production in 1920, with Olga Spessivtseva as Nikiya, Anatoly Vilzak as Solor and Maria Romanova (the mother of Galina Ulanova) as Gamzatti. In 1932, Agrippina Vaganova staged a new production of the ballet for the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet, in which she heavily revised the dances for Nikiya, especially for her star pupil Marina Semyonova, who danced the title role. These features included triple pirouettes sur la pointe and fast piqué turns en dehors, all of which would find a permanent place in the ballet.
In 1941, Vladimir Ponomarev and Vakhtang Chabukiani staged a new production for the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet, which has since gone onto become one of the most famous productions known today. This production retains the original 1900 décor for the first and second acts, it retained Vaganova’s revised choreographic passages for Nikiya, with some new revisions by Natalia Dudinskaya, and introduced other new changes that all became standard. One example is Ponomarev rechoreographing the dance of the bayadères in the first scene; in Petipa’s staging, this dance is a simple character dance, consisting almost entirely of tombés and the dancers wear heeled shoes. Ponomarev had the dancers wear pointe shoes and rechoreographed the number, giving it more challenging choreography.
In the same scene, Petipa’s staging features a number in which Nikiya was seen playing her veena at a window while Solor looks on before their meeting. Ponomarev changed this number to another variation in which Nikiya looks for Solor while carrying a water jug on her shoulder. Another change was the introduction of the famous pas de deux for Solor and Nikiya in the same scene. Originally, this number was not a dance number, but a purely mimed number, as discovered by Alexei Ratmansky when notation scores for La Bayadère by Alexander Gorsky were discovered in Moscow in 2018. It was Chabukiani who expanded and transformed this number into the famous pas de deux known today for the 1941 revival. Other changes included the transferring of the Grand Pas d’action of Act 4 to Act 2, new choreographic revisions for Solor by Chabukiani and the ending. By then, the fourth act had been omitted and it had become the tradition for the ballet to end with The Kingdom of the Shades in which the curtain fell on Solor and Nikiya surrounded by the corps de ballet of shades. The production by Ponomarev and Chabukiani premièred on the 10th February 1941 at the Kirov Theatre, with Natalia Dudinskaya as Nikiya and Chabukiani as Solor and the company continues to dance the production to this day.
In the years following the 1941 production, more new dance numbers were introduced to La Bayadère and have remained in the ballet ever since. One of the most famous numbers associated today with La Bayadère is the Dance of the Golden Idol. This number was created by the Russian danseur Nikolai Zubkovsky in 1948 for the Kirov/Mariinsky production. The music is by Minkus, but it is not from his score for La Bayadère – it is a Persian march that he composed for Petipa’s 1874 revival of Le Papillon. Interestingly, the music is not even a march, but a waltz in 5/4 time; in the nineteenth century, composers used the 5/4 time signature when they needed to portray ‘the exotic’. In 1954, Konstantin Sergeyev choreographed and added a new pas de deux for Dudinskaya into the second scene that is performed by Nikiya, a male slave and two female students. This pas de deux is known as the so-called Pas de deux for Nikiya and the Slave. The music for this number is not by Minkus, but by Cesare Pugni; it is the adage for his Pas des fleurs from the second act of La Esmeralda.
La Bayadère in the West
For many years, La Bayadère was not performed in the west. In the 1920s, Anna Pavlova attempted to stage The Kingdom of the Shades for her company, but alas, her attempts were unsuccessful. A highly abridged version was staged in the 1920s at the Paris Opera with Olga Spessivtseva as Nikiya and in 1930, Nikolai Sergeyev staged a short ballet called The Rajah’s Dream for a short tour, which was based on The Kingdom of the Shades. It would not be until the 1960s, however, that La Bayadère would become known and celebrated in the west.
In 1961, the ballet reappeared in the west when The Kingdom of the Shades made its official western début when it was staged for the Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro by Eugenia Feodorova on the 12th April. That same year, on the 4th July, the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet performed The Kingdom of the Shades at the Palais Garnier in Paris and it was this staging that won the scene widespread interest and recognition. In 1963, Sir Frederick Ashton commissioned Rudolf Nureyev to stage The Kingdom of the Shades for the Royal Ballet, as Nureyev was very familiar with the scene having danced in the full-length ballet in Russia. Sir John Lanchberry re-orchestrated and arranged Minkus’s score and Nureyev danced the role of Solor with Dame Margot Fonteyn in the role of Nikiya. The Royal Opera House première of The Kingdom of the Shades was a huge success and is considered to be one of the most important events in the history of ballet. However, it would not be for another nineteen years that the first full-length western production of La Bayadère would be staged when, in 1980, Natalia Makarova staged that very production for American Ballet Theatre.
Makarova based her production on the Ponomarev/Chabukiani version, which she had danced in during her career with the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet. Makarova’s production deviates further from Petipa’s version; the music was completely rearranged and re-orchestrated by Sir John Lanchberry, nearly all of the numbers of the Grand divertissements of the second act were cut and Makarova introduced a brand new version of the missing final act. Makarova’s La Bayadère premièred on the 21st May 1980 at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York and was broadcast live on PBS. Makarova, herself, danced Nikiya, but sustained an injury during the first act and had to be replaced by Marianna Tcherkassky. Dancing the role of Solor was Sir Anthony Dowell and Cynthia Harvey danced Gamzatti. Makarova’s production was a huge success and has remained a prominent member of the ABT repertoire ever since. In 1990, Makarova staged her production for the Royal Ballet and since then, has staged it for various companies around the world.
In 1991, Rudolf Nureyev began plans to stage a new revival of La Bayadère for the Paris Opera Ballet. Like Makarova’s production, Nureyev’s production is based on the Ponomarev/Chabukiani version and he turned to his old friend and dance partner, the former Kirov Prima Ballerina Ninel Kurgapkina for assistance in staging the work. He commissioned the opera designer Enzio Frigerio and his wife opera designer Franca Squarciapino to design the décor and costumes. Nureyev’s La Bayadère premièred on the 8th October 1992, with Isabelle Guérin as Nikiya, Laurent Hilaire as Solor and Élisabeth Platel as Gamzatti. The production was a huge success and Nureyev was awarded with the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Minister of Culture. The première was also a special occasion for many, for Nureyev died three months later.
In 2002, Russian Ballet Master Sergei Vikharev mounted a new production of La Bayadère at the Mariinsky Theatre, in which he restored the long-lost fourth act. Although this staging has been labelled as a “reconstruction”, Vikharev retained most of the Soviet choreography and used only a small amount of the notated choreographic passages. The production premièred on the 31st May 2002, with Daria Pavlenko as Nikiya, Igor Kolb as Solor and Elvira Tarasova as Gamzatti, but was met with hostility in Saint Petersburg. Vikharev’s staging of La Bayadère has since been retired from the Mariinsky repertoire and the company continues to perform in the 1941 Ponomarev/Chabukiani production. In 2018, for Petipa’s bicentenary, La Bayadère was reconstructed by Alexei Ratmansky for the Staatsballett Berlin, with new décors and costumes by Jerome Kaplan. Ratmansky’s reconstruction of La Bayadère premièred on the 4th November 2018 at the Staatsoper Unter den Berlin, with Polina Semionova as Nikiya, Alejandro Virelles as Solor and Yolanda Correa as Gamzatti.
The Kingdom of the Shades
The most famous and celebrated scene of La Bayadère is The Kingdom of the Shades scene, in which Solor, under the influence of opium, dreams of his beloved Nikiya in a glorious heavenly realm at the top of the Himalayan Mountains. Petipa staged The Kingdom of the the Shades scene as a Grand Pas Classique; in the original 1877 production, the scene was set in an illuminated castle in the sky and contained a huge corps de ballet of sixty-four dancers. Petipa’s simple and academic choreography was to become one of his most celebrated compositions, with the famous Entrance of the Shades arguably his most celebrated composition of all.
The Entrance of the Shades was inspired by Gustav Doré’s illustrations for Dante’s Paradiso from The Divine Comedy, with each dancer of the sixty-four strong corps de ballet clad in white tutus with veils stretched about their arms. Each of the dancers made her entrance one by one down a long winding ramp from upstage right with a simple arabesque (fondu) and into cambré, followed by an arching of the torso with arms in fifth position, followed by two steps forward. With the last two steps, she made room for her sister shade and the combination would continue thus in a serpentine pattern until the entire corps de ballet had filled the stage in eight rows of eight. Then followed simple movements en adage to the end. Petipa left the Entrance of the Shades free of technical complexity – the unison of the whole and the effect of the descending ballerinas was the challenge, as a mistake from one dancer would spoil the entire scenario.
For his 1900 revival, Petipa changed the setting for The Kingdom of the Shades scene from an enchanted castle in the sky on a fully lighted stage to a dark and rocky set on the starlit peaks of the Himalayas. He also decreased the number of dancers in the corps de ballet from sixty-four to forty-eight.
One very interesting passage that has been changed in modern times is the Variation of Nikiya with the Scarf, which is known today as The Scarf Duet. Today, this piece is danced by Nikiya with Solor holding the ends of a tulle scarf before the latter exits with the scarf, leaving Nikiya to complete her solo alone. In the original variation by Petipa, Solor never took part in this passage – Nikiya entered the stage holding one end of a long tulle scarf, while the other end was attached to a wire in the rafters above the stage. When Nikiya released the scarf, it flew away across the stage and disappeared into the rafters, as if it were “supernaturally guided”. The original Nikiya, Ekaterina Vazem briefly mentions this effect in her memoirs:
I had a great success, in the variation, accompanied by [Leopold] Auer’s violin solo, with the veil which flies upwards at the end.
The majority of the traditional choreography that is danced by Nikiya in the Kingdom of the Shades scene was not choreographed by Petipa, but by Agrippina Vaganova and Natalia Dudinskaya, who gave way to the multiple tours en arabesque performed in the so-called “Scarf duet” and added the famous fast piqué turns in the Grand coda.
The loss of Act 4
One of the most distinguishable facts about modern productions of La Bayadère is the loss of the fourth and final act, in which, during the wedding of Gamzatti and Solor, Solor is haunted by the shade of Nikiya and the temple is destroyed by the gods as vengeance for Nikiya’s death.
The first production to omit the fourth act was Alexander Gorsky’s 1907 revival of his original 1904 production for the Imperial Bolshoi Ballet. Gorsky’s reason for omitting the fourth act was because by then, the Saint Petersburg Imperial Theatre’s administration had stopped renting the sets. Years later, the 1920 post-Revolution production at the former Imperial Mariinsky Theatre also omitted the fourth and final act and modified the scenario, while Minkus’s score was adapted by Boris Asafiev, transferring the music for the apotheosis in the fourth act to the Grand coda of the third act’s Grand Pas Classqiue to bring the ballet to a close. Fyodor Lopukhov claimed that the fourth act was removed because the theatre now lacked the technical staff needed to stage the destruction of the temple.
A modern tradition of La Bayadère is the inclusion of the Grand Pas d’action in Act 2. However, this Grand Pas d’action is from the fourth act and is meant to be performed by Nikiya, Solor, Gamzatti and four bayadères, for in this number, the shade of Nikiya haunts Solor during his wedding to Gamzatti. Today, however, the scenario is completely changed, as it is traditionally performed by Gamzatti, Solor, four bayadères and two cavaliers. This, in turn, has also altered the scenario of the entire second act from a festival of Badrinata to a celebration of Gamzatti and Solor’s engagement. The variations also underwent change from the original 1877 production.
The famous variation for Solor in the Grand Pas d’action that is danced in all modern productions is not the original variation that was performed by Pavel Gerdt in 1877, nor it is the variation that was performed by Nikolai Legat in the 1900 revival. For the 1900 revival, Legat interpolated a variation that was composed by Minkus for Petipa’s 1874 revival of Le Papillon into the Grand Pas d’action as Solor’s variation. The violin repetiteur score for this variation is included in the Sergeyev Collection. According to Alexei Ratmansky, it was Chabukiani who later replaced Legat’s variation with the famous traditional one danced today.
The traditional variation that is danced by Gamzatti is not the original variation composed by Minkus, but a variation composed by Riccardo Drigo for Queen Nisia in the Pas de Vénus from Le Roi Candaule. However, this is not the variation that is included in the repetiteur score in the Sergeyev Collection as Gamzatti’s variation; what is included is what is today known as the famous Variation of Dulcinea in the Dream scene of Don Quixote. It has been commonly believed that this famous Dulcinea variation was composed by Drigo for Alexander Gorsky’s 1902 revival of Don Quixote, but that is not the case. This variation was actually composed by Drigo in 1888 for Elena Cornalba’s performance in The Vestal. It was later interpolated into La Bayadère as the Variation of Gamzatti in the Grand Pas d’action, possibly by Julia Sedova, who was dancing the role of Gamzatti by 1902 and whose name is on the repetiteur score. However, it is unknown if this is the same variation that was danced by Olga Preobrazhenskaya in 1900. It is also unclear how the famous traditional variation for Gamzatti ended up in La Bayadère, but there are two possibilities – it could have been interpolated into the ballet by Preobrazhenskaya for the 1900 revival and was then replaced by the variation performed by Sedova, or it is a Soviet addition. The famous traditional choreography for this variation that is commonly danced today is by Gusev.
According to Sergei Vikharev, the Grand Pas d’action once included a variation for Nikiya that was composed by Drigo for Matilda Kschessinskaya in the 1900 revival. However, Vikharev did not include this variation in his 2002 production and as of today, it remains unknown if the music has survived.
According to Lopukhov, the 1920 revival was the first production to present the Grand Pas d’action in the second act. In one of his many writings, Lopukhov writes that when the 1920 revival was staged, the music for the Grand Pas d’action was cut and rearranged, Nikiya was removed from the number and the number was given to Solor, Gamzatti and four bayadères. He then goes on to say that it was in the 1941 revival by Ponomarev and Chabukiani that the Grand Pas d’action was heavily revised into the traditional version danced today, with only a small fragment of Petipa’s choreography still in use.
The loss of the fourth act not only saw the transferring of the Grand Pas d’action to the second act and the omission of the destruction of the temple, but also the omission of a rarely danced number. This number is the Dance of the Lotus Blossoms, a children’s dance for twenty-four female students, which is performed after the Grand Marche. This dance had not been performed until it was reconstructed and restored by Vikharev. It is also in this number that Nikiya makes her Act 4 entrance. In Petipa’s staging, the students make a circle in the middle of the stage and tap the floor with their garlands, after which, Nikiya rises up onto the stage via a trap door. She dances the remainder of the dance with Solor, to whom she is only visible, pursuing her, which leaves everyone else thinking that he is losing his reason. Vikharev’s staging of the Dance of the Lotus Blossoms did not include Nikiya, but her place in the dance was restored by Alexei Ratmansky in his 2018 reconstruction.
Although Gorsky was the first to omit the fourth act, his production and its subsequent revivals were never staged outside of Moscow. It was the 1920 revival that ultimately gave way to the tradition of omitting the fourth act and performing the Grand Pas d’action in the second act. However, Lopukhov’s explanation for the omission of the fourth act in the 1920 revival does not explain why it was permanently removed from the ballet as it later reappeared on the Russian stage. The fourth act of La Bayadère was performed for the final time in Russia circa. 1924, after which, it disappeared from the ballet.
There is no concrete explanation for the loss of Act 4, but there are several possibilities:
- Petrograd was flooded in 1924 and many pieces of décor created for the former Mariinsky Theatre’s stage were destroyed. Among these may have been the décor for Act 4 of La Bayadère and perhaps the post-revolution Saint Petersburg ballet were unable to obtain the funds for new décor.
- A lack of funding supports the second theory, which is that the Mariinsky Theatre lacked the technical staff needed to produce the effects of the temple’s destruction, as Lopukhov claimed.
- A third and more curious explanation tells of how the Soviet regime would not have allowed the performance of a theatrical presentation that included Hindu gods destroying a temple.
It may very well be that all of this factored into the loss of Act 4, but the true explanation for the act’s disappearance still remains unclear. Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, several modern productions of La Bayadère surfaced that included new versions of the fourth act, with the most famous being Natalia Makarova’s production. The final act in Makarova’s production is a version that she completely created and choreographed herself with the music of Minkus completely rearranged and re-orchestrated by Sir John Lanchbery. When Rudolf Nureyev staged his production, he had planned to include the fourth act, but his failing health further deteriorated and he ran short of money. In the end, he chose to remain faithful to the Soviet tradition of ending La Bayadère on the Kingdom of the Shades scene. It was not until the staging of Sergei Vikharev’s 2002 production that the fourth act from Petipa’s production was restored, though the notated passages from the Grand Pas d’action were modified and expanded. For example, Vikharev’s staging of the coda included the traditional fouetté sequence for Gamzatti. However, this fouetté sequence is a Soviet revision and was probably added in the 1941 revival. Years after Vikahrev’s production was retired, the fourth act was restored by Alexei Ratmansky.
- Meisner, Nadine (2019) Marius Petipa, The Emperor’s Ballet Master. New York City, US: Oxford University Press
- Letellier, Robert Ignatius (2008) The Ballets of Ludwig Minkus. Cambridge Scholars Publishing
- Naughtin, Matthew (2014) Ballet Music: A Handbook. Lanham, Maryland, US: Rowman & Littefield
- Pritchard, Jane with Hamilton, Caroline (2012) Anna Pavlova: Twentieth-Century Ballerina. London, UK: Booth-Clibborn Editions
- Scholl, Tim (1994) From Petipa to Balanchine: Classical Revival and the Modernization of Ballet. Abingdon, Oxfordshire, UK: Routledge
- Wiley, Roland John (2007) A Century of Russian Ballet. Alton, Hampshire, UK: Dance Books Ltd
- Stegemann, Michael. CD Liner notes. Trans. Lionel Salter. Léon Minkus. Paquita & La Bayadère. Boris Spassov Cond. Sofia National Opera Orchestra. Capriccio 10 544.
- Royal Ballet: Souvenir program for La Bayadère. Royal Opera House, 1990
- Mariinsky Ballet: Souvenir program for La Bayadère. Mariinsky Theatre, 2001
Photos and images: © Dansmuseet, Stockholm © Большой театр России © Victoria and Albert Museum, London © Государственный академический Мариинский театр © CNCS/Pascal François © Bibliothèque nationale de France © Musée l’Opéra © Colette Masson/Roger-Viollet © АРБ имени А. Я. Вагановой © Михаил Логвинов © Михайловский театр, фотограф Стас Левшин. Партнёры проекта: СПбГБУК «Санкт-Петербургская государственная Театральная библиотека». ФГБОУВО «Академия русского балета имени А. Я. Вагановой» СПбГБУК «Михайловский театр». Михаил Логвинов, фотограф. Martine Kahane.