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Review of the Mariinsky Ballet in ‘La Bayadère’ at The Kennedy Center

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If you’ve never seen the Mariinsky Ballet dance a full-length classic (or missed its previous 2008 production of La Bayadère,) rush to buy tickets for this current engagement at The Kennedy Center Opera House through Sunday afternoon. It’s a loving tribute to the ballet’s original choreographer, Marius Petipa, who created La Bayadère for the St. Petersburg-based company over 140 years ago. And don’t leave the ballet early as the most blissful moment takes place in Act III as 32 ballerinas, all dressed in white romantic tutus and veils, float across the stage in the famous, unforgettable “Kingdom of the Shades.”

Mariinsky Ballet production of La Bayadere. Photo by Valentin Baranovsky.

The first dancer enters upstage left in a perfectly balanced arabesque, her leg high above her head, her arched foot pointed, then lowers her leg and slowly unfolds her arms to frame her face. At that very moment, the second ballerina starts this same combination, and the ballet continues until all are joined together in the center of the stage. Performed in mirror image of each other, this 25-minute section is absolutely breathtaking.

Critics and balletomanes tend to judge the merit of La Bayadère on whether a company pulls off the “Shades” with grace and aplomb. For the record, last night’s opening program was a huge success, a grand showcase for bravura ballet – the kind of dancing we’ve come to expect from the company that gave us Balanchine, Baryshnikov, Nureyev and Makarova, still my favorite bayadere.

You can also count on the Russians for convincing acting in the character roles, especially in the first act, setting the scene for betrayal and redemption. Gavriel Heine keeps the story moving along with his skillful conducting of The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra in the familiar Ludwig Minkus score. I found myself listening to the trumpet solo, later humming it, as the characters Nikiya, Solor, the Rajah and daughter Gamzatti begin their journey, though with less movement, more mime, and not quite as fierce as seen in previous viewings.

The Mariinsky Ballet production of La Bayadere. Photo by Natasha Razina.

Set in India, the story of a beautiful temple dancer’s doomed love for the dashing young warrior is packed with exhilarating choreography, but most of that doesn’t happen until the second act. Here’s where the corps de ballet, as well as the extras, get to shine as the story unfolds in fairytale fashion. With dozens of characters onstage at the same time, it’s quite a glorious scene, highlighted by a pretty variation by three of the second soloists.

The set and lighting design by Mikhail Shishliannikov also caught our attention with lush gardens hiding dangerous secrets, and shadows from the netherworld casting their spell. Costumes by Yevgeny Ponomarev dazzle from start to finish. And you can catch a close-up look at Nikiya’s purple and Gamzatti’s silver designs in the Opera House lobby.

No matter how exquisite the production may be, a company cannot shine without stars. In the Kirov’s current generation, none is more beautiful than Viktoria Tereshkina, who danced the coveted role of Nikita in the opening program and repeats it on Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. The lithe, exotic-looking ballerina from the far eastern part of Russia is adored by her many fans who cheered her every move at last night’s performance. And deservedly so.

Kimin Kim in the Mariinsky Ballet production of La Bayadere. Photo by Natasha Razina.

Korean Kimin Kim is a new star with the Mariinsky Ballet. His amazing technique, especially those flying leaps with incredibly stretched legs across the stage, also merited applause at the finale. Kim reminds one of a young Baryshnikov when he pulls off multiple pirouettes, then turns to his lover (or perhaps the audience) with an awesome smile and a cocky look-at-me. One wonders if the choreography created for his solo carries too much pressure to perform Olympic-like tricks perhaps better left for the The Golden Idol role by Vasily Tkachenko in the second act – wow, can this guy dance and jump and pop.

Listed as “First Soloist,” Anastasia Matvienko demonstrated a reserved-but-revengeful interpretation of Gamzatti, especially in the beautifully staged pas de deux, reminiscent of other jealous lovers, Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirland. Still, it was the chemistry between Tereshkina and Kim that lingers long after the curtain closes. Her backbend seemingly touches the floor, her arms floating above, as she falls into her lover’s arms. Their bodies melt as the violins echo such sweetness. They soar together when the French horns and woodwind instruments crescendo.

Can you get more romantic than that?

Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with two 15-minute intermissions.

The Mariinsky Ballet production of La Bayadère plays through October 22, 2017 at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office (800) 444-1324 or (202)-467-4600, or purchase them online.

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