Chicago Theater Review: LA BAYADÈRE: THE TEMPLE DANCER (Joffrey Ballet)

October 17, 2013
Lawrence Bommer

Earlier this fall the Joffrey Ballet revisited the uneasy birth of modern dance with a kinetic revival of Stravinsky’s still-shocking, century-old Sacre du Printemps in all its primitive vitality. As if to balance the ledger, the Auditorium Theatre is now filled with the gorgeous melodies of a late-blooming classical ballet from 1877. Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez in Joffrey Ballet's LA BAYADÈRE-THE TEMPLE DANCER.With an infectious score by Ludwig Minkus, La Bayadere: The Temple Dancer premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1877 at the Imperial Russian Ballet, choreographed by the great Marius Petipa (who would go on to greater glory with Tchaikovsky). Sadly, though the third act’s famous “Kingdom of the Shades” (a kind of Oriental take on Giselle and her posthumous Willis) remained in the world repertory, the full ballet disappeared until 1961. But three years ago Houston Ballet revived this too-rare gem, choreographed by Artistic Director Stanton Welch with splendid updated orchestrations by John Lanchbery. It’s this gorgeous and condensed revival, presented by the Joffrey Ballet and accompanied by The Chicago Philharmonic conducted by Scott Speck, that is here only until October 27. A scene from Joffrey Ballet's LA BAYADÈRE-THE TEMPLE DANCER.This extravaganza of a swirling spectacle transports us to a mythic India—and a silly story fully justified by the music that tells it. In this mystic realm of white Mughal palaces and rose-red fortresses, our hero is the low-caste warrior prince Solor (a splendid Dylan Gutierrez, making all the right moves), who has killed a tiger and saved a village. But he’s also fallen in love with the beautiful—and forbidden–temple dancer Nikiya (elegantly sensual Victoria Jaiani)—to the rage of the implacable High Brahmin (formidable Fabrice Calmels) who also craves the delectable Nikiya. Erica Lynette Edwards in Joffrey Ballet's LA BAYADÈRE-THE TEMPLE DANCER.To provide more swift-moving complications, the bejeweled Rajah (Miguel Angel Blanco) rewards tiger-killing Solor with the hand of his daughter Gamzatti (quicksilver April Daly), a princess who’s not above sending snakes to a rival if it means separating her comely Solor from Nikiya’s irresistible charms. Unscrupulous Gamzatti gets help from her wicked servant Ajhah (Erica Lynette Edwards). But the evil forces that threaten the lovers have not reckoned with revenge from the next world, visited by Solor in an opium dream but very real in the finale. It’s enough to make a temple collapse. Rory Hohenstein and Dylan Gutierrez in Joffrey Ballet's LA BAYADÈRE-THE TEMPLE DANCER.Exuberantly exotic, the sumptuous decor and costumes by Peter Farmer provide the right ceremonial—and storybook–setting for Minkus’ captivating, waltz-laden score. Solor and Nikya are given glorious pas de deux (as well when he partners with Gamzatti) that our principals turn into literal tours de force. The lifts, leaps and turns push courtship into carnality with an acrobatic elan and contagious delight. The dance of the four taut Groomsmen is controlled synergy, immaculately coordinated. Indeed this ballet teems with celebratory pieces that shamelessly showcase an unexceptionable ensemble who play Solor’s large family, monks, villagers, the royal court and its adorable children, two servants and no less than five gods. Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez with ensemble in Joffrey Ballet's LA BAYADÈRE-THE TEMPLE DANCER.It’s suitably showy, a contrast to the third act’s second where we enter the purest heaven of classical dance with all its breathless beauty. Inspired by the rightly named dream god Garuda (Roy Hohenstein), the lovely female Shades engage in graceful and rhapsodic group movements as well as an enchanting pas de trois. The next world was never so deliriously exuberant. Thanks to La Bayadere, you can say the same of this one too.