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The Paris Opera Ballet's presentation of Rudolph Nureyev's "La Bayadere" has beautiful sets and costumes and some of the best male choreography I've seen. It opens in front of a big sandstone temple edifice. Solor's friends are a primitive lot and they half crawl on all fours from either side of the stage to surround the sacred fire. They do a spectacular ensemble leaping, spinning, kicking, and cartwheels in undulating rhythms. It's primitive, pulsating, and wildly athletic.

Nikiya enters slowly. She glides on point, twirling, kicking, picking up speed. She's the embodiment of elegant sensuality. She and Solor see each other, and she runs across the stage and leaps into his arms. He holds her straight out, spins her around, lifts her high over his head. Their pas de deux is tender, loving, and passionate.

Scene 2 is the Raja's palace, a scene straight out of the Arabian Nights. This production of full of gorgeous ensemble numbers, and we have some exquisitely layered effects here. The Raja offers the hand of his daughter, Gamzatti to Solor, and he has to accept. She summons Nikiya when she is told of their secret relationship. The two women spin around the stage and circle each other. Nikiya goes down to the floor, and Gamzatti gives her a loud slap on the face. Nikiya rises, grabs a knife, a chases her with it before Gamzatti's servant takes it away.

Act 2 is inside the Raja's palace, and it's magnificent. The Raja enters in a big, canopied sedan chair, and Gamzatti enters in another. Solor arrives on top of a big elephant. These are some of the best entertainments in celebration of Gamzatti's betrothal to Solor. There's a children's corps de ballet, and highstepping, pirouetting ballerinas. The nine primitive guys return again, this time with red fringy head dresses and red pants. One has a bongo drum. He pounds out pulsating rhythms while flailing and leaping. They go down on the floor and one guy and girl do a sizzling pas de deux, while the drummer beats his drum. This act is a wild tapestry of throbbing jungle rhythms and the beauty, grace, and elegance of classical ballet at 80 mph.

Next comes two ballerinas in vivid green tutus with white trim. They're joined by two more. Solor and Gamzatti do a dazzling pas de deux, but this is all spectacle. There's none of the loving tenderness or passion of Solor's Act 1 dance with Nikiya. They each do riveting solos. He's extremely clean with no wasted motion. His arms and legs are always in the perfect position as he leaps and splits.

Aurlelie Dupont's Gamzatti is fluid and effortless in her movements. She leaps, flutters her feet, and explosively kicks her legs out, flying across the stage. She throws her arms out, folds them over her head, and spins like a top.

Fanny Gaida's Nikiya enters to a poignant adagio. She sinks to the floor, stretches back and raises her arms in supplication to the gods. Solor ignores her and the Raja orders the servant to get the flowers with the serpent. She does a lively dance spreading the flowers. It's a nice bit of drama because you know there's a snake in there, but it doesn't bite her. When it finally does, it's shocking because it attaches itself to her, and she has to shake if off, like a real snake. Solor rushes to her but the Raja grabs him. She stretches out to him, but he turns away. He finally rushes to her and she dies in his arms.

Act 3 is the Land of the Shades with a magnificent old, dark forest in the background. Solor lies down in a opium dream. The wild men creep out of the sides with little lights, like fireflies. They're bathed in blood red light. They leap, tucking their legs like cossacks as they undulate and form a circle, slowly approaching him.
All goes dark, and the dead bayaderes enter with slow precision. The 32 ballerinas take a step, lean forward with the back leg straight up, and methodically make their way down to the stage like this. They gather, all lean one way then the other. They shimmer on point, kick, and spin, all in unison. They finally separate on either side of the stage.

Nikiya is illuminated above the stage at the back. Solor dances back to her, and she disappears. She reappears on the stage, and they do the final pas de deux. This one is love, not spectacle. Every movement is sweetness and tenderness. They're framed by a half circle of the other bayaderes at the back of the stage.

"La Bayadere" was the final work by Nureyev before his death, and it's really exquisite. He deftly weaves a tapestry of Russian folk dance and some of the most purely classical ballet around. Much of the male dancing, especially seems to have elements of the Cossack dancing; the way they tuck their legs, and go down low on the floor, or just above it, and slide, crawl, and dance with power and grace. The Pacific Symphony Orchestra was led by Vello Pahn in music of Ludwig Minkus in this stunning production of "La Bayadere" by The Paris Opera Ballet at The Orange County Performing Arts Center


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