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Bayerisches Staatsballett opens HK Arts Festival

Kevin Ng catches the 19th century classic as it performs in Hong Kong for the first time in over a decade.

This year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival opened with a ballet programme – ‘La Bayadere’ performed by Germany’s Bayerisches Staaatsballett (Bavarian State Ballet) which was making its debut. “La Bayadere” (The Temple Dancer), a 19th century classic, is a good choice for local audiences, as it hadn’t been performed in Hong Kong for over a decade.

This lavish 1998 production by the former Paris Opera ballet master Patrice Bart is more or less faithful to Petipa’s original choreography. Set in Raj India, this story of intrigue, jealousy and divine retribution has plenty of exotic dancing to delight the audiences. The ‘tom-tom’ drum dance is explosive, contrasted by the graceful ‘Djampe’ dance of six female dancers holding scarves.

The most famous episode of this classic is the ‘Kingdom of the Shades’ scene, in Act 2 of the production. This ‘ballet blanc’ is a touchstone of classical ballet.  The two final scenes – the wedding in the temple, and the apotheosis – are however Bart’s own choreography, since Petipa’s original choreography had been lost. 

The temple scene fortunately includes an exciting virtuoso solo by the Golden Idol, and the final destruction of the temple is quite theatrically depicted by red fabric. The apotheosis, however, which sees the three leads marching together with their backs facing us, is bewildering. In view of the loss of choreography in the final act, it would have been far better for the whole ballet to end with the glorious Kingdom of the Shades scene as in the Mariinsky Ballet’s version, instead of substituting new choreography for the final two scenes.

The Bavarian State Ballet, now directed by the former Russian star Igor Zelensky, is a good second-tier company, though at present relatively weak in terms of principals. In   last Saturday night’s performance, the dancers in the lead roles were generally good but not particularly exceptional. As Nikiya, Ivy Amista was at her best in the Kingdom of the Shades scene with her dazzling virtuosity.

As her love rival Gamzatti, Prisca Zeisel was quite glamorous but lacked technical strength. She fell off her series of fouette turns half way in the coda of the grand pas in Act 1. Erik Murzagaliyev, a soloist from Kazakhstan, was muted as the heroic warrior Solor. His technical virtuosity lacked brilliance.

The Bavarian company’s corps de ballet impressed in the Kingdom of the Shades scene.  Among the three shades soloists, the second one (danced by Elizaveta Kruteleva) was the best and got the loudest applause. In Act 1 the divertissements were well danced despite the cramped stage; and the two love rivals’ confrontation scene was dramatic. The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra was superb under the baton of Michael Schmidtsdorff.

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