The Perseverance Test
"Would you like to go and see a ballet production?” I tentatively asked my husband. His look was that of a man asked to have his teeth pulled out at the dentists without any anesthesia! “I am assuming that is a “No”, I answered on his behalf. The look changed to one of relief. Now to tell you the truth, I am not a huge fan of ballet myself --- the last one I went to with my husband and children, was I am sure a culturally fulfilling experience, but it did nothing for me except bore me to tears. Before you accuse me of being a masochist, I must explain that it was not really my idea to go through the ordeal again but that of a very dear friend of ours. She mentioned that there was a ballet performance called 'La Bayadère' (The Temple Dancer) which was supposed to be very good and also thought that this might be a way to change my lukewarm appreciation of the art form and possibly even convert me into an ardent fan. Not being a totally unreasonable person, I thought that it was only fair that I should give it another shot. Sadly my other half was not quite convinced about this decision and bowed out of the experiment. I then went down the familial food chain and roped my eldest daughter into accompanying us to the show.
As the show was being held at The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, the plan was to watch a matinee performance which we thought would still give us time to wander around and make a day of it. A few minutes before the start of the show the tannoy overhead told us to be seated so we hurriedly made our way to our designated seats. Once we were ensconced comfortably in the auditorium, I let myself take in the ambience of my surroundings. The interior of the Royal Opera House was incredibly sumptuous and opulent. The crimson velvet of the curtains and seats contrasted by the gold was quite dazzling as was the pastel blue and gold ceiling. I could almost visualise ladies in their ball gowns and men in their top hats sitting in the seats which we were now occupying. However, as the lights went down and the huge theatre went quiet I prayed that the next few hours would not drag on as painfully slowly as the last time. Especially as according to the programme this particular production was estimated to last for around two and a half hours! It did not look like we would have much time to do much else after the show.
It is probably a good idea to read up about the ballet before the actual performance as there are no dialogues or singing in the show. It is a pure dance form accompanied by music. I confess I had not done my homework so my friend gave me a synopsis of the story which was confirmed by the programme I was poring over prior to the beginning of the show. To give you a very brief background on La Bayedère, it was originally choreographed by the ballet master Marius Petipa and the music was composed by Ludwig Minkus. I was quite surprised to find out that the first performance was held at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre in St. Petersburg, in Russia all the way back in 1877. What intrigued me about this particular ballet was the fact that the story was supposed to be based in ancient India. “Nikiya, a bayadère or temple dancer, is in love with Solor, a noble warrior. But the Rajah decides to marry his daughter Gamzatti to Solor, who, overwhelmed by her beauty, forgets his vows of love to Nikiya. When the Rajah learns of Nikiya's and Solor's love from the High Brahmin (who is also in love with Nikiya), he decides to have the bayadère killed. Gamzatti tries to persuade Nikiya to give up Solor but she refuses and attacks the princess, who then also decides to have the bayadère killed. Nikiya dances at the betrothal celebrations of Gamzatti and Solor. She is fatally bitten by a poisonous snake hidden in a basket of flowers sent by the Rajah and Gamzatti. Solor has a vision of Nikiya in the Kingdom of the Shades. Later, at the wedding ceremony, he is again haunted by the vision of Nikiya which he alone can see. The gods, infuriated by the killing of Nikiya, destroy the temple, killing everyone in it. The spirits of Nikiya and Solor are reunited in eternal love.” Almost sounds like the plot for a Hindi movie, don't you think?
Now to give credit where credit is due, the set was magnificent and the outfits extremely lavish. There was zari work and sequins, turbans and tiaras, and vibrant colours galore. Also the actual dancing itself was impeccable and as I gazed around me I could see people looking on in rapt admiration. I have to say that initially, I found my interest kept wavering. I almost felt like a fish at the end of a fishing line --- every now and then the dancers would reel me in and grab my attention and then suddenly I would feel a tiny wave of disinterest wash over me. Though I did sit up in the first scene when the wig flew off one of the dancers during a rather vigorous twirling session but who managed to do an admirable job of retrieving it subtly before exiting the stage.
However, there was one particular scene from the ballet, known as The Kingdom of the Shades, which was truly spectacular. It is supposed to be one of the most renowned excerpts in all of classical ballet, and is even performed independently to the rest of the story. Having witnessed this beautiful and mesmerising dance sequence, I know exactly why. The dancers set the scene for what should be a mournful yet loving dream duet for prince Solor and his beloved Nikiya, who has been killed. As the ballerinas gradually stepped down the ramp from a shadowy grotto, the languidity yet elegance of their movements made me sit on the edge of my seat and watch with bated breath. I believe there are supposed to be 32 dancers but in our case there were actually 24 on the stage (yes I counted). The dance in question requires perfect harmony between the corps de ballet or the main group of dancers, and any slight mistake, be it an inaccurate lift of the arms or tilt of the head mars the entire effect. I think I would have been quite happy to watch the dancers glide and sway and pirouette all evening. However, the duet between Solor and Nikiya, also part of the sequence went on for a little longer than I would have liked. Thankfully the last act was relatively short and I did manage to stay focussed for the dramatic ending where everybody basically dies.
As we made our way out of the Royal Opera House and into the cold air, I had to admit to myself that I had enjoyed the experience more than I had anticipated. This does not mean I will be rushing back at every opportunity, but I am sure it will take much less persuasion next time. Maybe there is something to be said for women in tutus and men in tights...
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