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19th century East meets West in Joffrey Ballet’s La Bayadere: The Temple Dancer

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Joffrey Ballet's La Bayadere

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Joffrey Ballet’s production of La Bayadere: The Temple Dancer is a study in contrasts: a soap opera-like melodrama co-existing with exquisitely choreographed artistry, classical Western music and dance steps paired with a story based on Indian culture, and a view of 19th century India as seen through 19th century European eyes, when well-to-do Europeans were fascinated with Orientalism – or at least their version of it.

Created in 1876-77 for the Imperial Russian Ballet by the Viennese composer Ludwig Minkus, the influence of the western world’s 19th century Romantic Movement (which had waned by the time this ballet was created) is evident in many of the themes in this ballet: a fascination with exoticism, the association of nature and spirit, and an emphasis on self-expression that often revealed itself in extravagant and flamboyant ways.

The story begins with low-caste Solor killing a Bengal tiger that has been terrorizing a village. Once the tiger is dead, out from the shadows steps Nikiya, a temple dancer, who thanks Solor for saving her from the tiger’s jaws. It’s love at first sight; however, when news of Solor’s feat reaches the Rajah, he gives his eldest daughter, Gamzatti, to Solor in marriage, which dismays both Solor and Nikiya, who have already plotted to run away as soon as Solor receives his financial reward for killing the tiger. Their plan is discovered, however, and Gamzatti and her handmaiden as well as the High Brahmin, who is in love with Nikiya, devise separate plots to keep this from happening. As with all good tragedies, the ending is not good for the young lovers – or anyone else.

Victoria Jaiani is, not surprisingly, amazing in the role of Nikiya, the temple dancer. Her fluidity and gracefulness are perfectly matched with the character’s vulnerabilities and the spirit world. April Daly as Gamzatti, the Rajah’s daughter, is a delight to watch as her movements reflect the strength and guile of her character. Not to be outdone by the ladies, Dyland Gutierrez, as Solor, gives a stand-out performance as he commands the stage with his athletic strength in his solo performances; he is also an equally good match for both Jaiani and Daly as they perform their very different roles.

Some of the other roles to take notice of are Fabrice Calmels as High Brahmin, who, with his shaved head and stature, grabs and holds your attention before he even starts dancing, Erica Lynette Edwards as Ajah, Gamzatti’s servant, who is delightfully devious, John Mark Giragosian as Agni, the Fire God, and Raul Casasola in a very comical role as Rajah’s head servant. Don’t leave early, or you will miss one of the highlights of the production, a portion of the dream sequence, where 18 dancers in white tutus take over the stage in an amazingly precise and lovely illustration of choreography and talent.

La Bayadere is beautifully choreographed by Stanton Welch, the costumes and backdrops (courtesy of Houston Ballet) are lovely, and Chicago Philharmonic does a marvelous job of bringing the pageantry and energy of the music to life under the direction of Scott Speck as Music Director.

The Joffrey Ballet will perform La Bayadere: The Temple Dancer through Sunday, October 27 at the Auditorium Theater, 50 E. Congress, Chicago. This performance lasts for 2 hours, 22 minutes with two intermissions. Tickets range from $31-152 and can be purchased online.

My articles can be found at http://www.examiner.com/cultural-events-in-chicago/donna-robertson in the Chicago edition of examiner.com. If you want to be notified when upcoming cultural events are published, click on “Subscribe” above. You can also follow me on Facebook at the “Chicago Cultural Events” community page.

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