The Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra makes its way back to Southern California to open Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ 2019-2020 International Dance Series on October 16th. In its return, the renowned Russian ballet company will bring an exotic world of temple dancers and noble warriors to life with its production of “La Bayadère,” sharing a tale of forbidden love and betrayal through classical ballet.
“I believe that there is nothing better, more important, more difficult in the art of dance than the classical ballets,” said Mariinsky Ballet’s acting director, Yuri Fateev. “These ballets have survived more than 100 years and continue to excite the public and the dancers because they are just ingenious.”
A timeless 19th-century classic, “La Bayadère” was originally performed in St. Petersburg in 1877, but it remained unknown in the West until nearly 100 years later when the Kingdom of Shades scene from the ballet’s second act was taken on tour by the Kirov Ballet.
This particular scene is said to be one of the ballet’s highlights and fits the common trope of the original choreographer, Marius Petipa, of a dream or vision scene where the narrative is often (but not invariably) paused. These scenes are almost always composed of strict classical technique; in “La Bayadère” the Kingdom of Shades is a departure from the ballet’s Indian context.
Said Fateev about the scene, “Art is magic, and Petipa (found) an impressive visual effect in entrée and the dance of 32 ladies in white tutus. It is simply ingenious. But this effect could be reached only in the first-class presentation of the identical-looking dancers trained within the same schooling. That’s the secret.”
The iconic interlude is known for the corps de ballet’s performance of a series of arabesques across a moonlit stage that are choreographed so that they establish the scene’s otherworldly presence. It has been called a technical tour de force by many, one that acquires its magic from the sheer perfection of form.
Fateev takes issues with the claim that classical ballet is a dance style in decline. Not only does it have a healthy ability to fuse with and support other styles, but Western classical dance continues to be the standard of excellence in dance training.
“Certainly, the present world opens many perspectives to the dancers, but I want to emphasize that there is nothing more difficult than the classical ballet,” Fateev said. “And my axiom is as follows: an outstanding classical dancer is able to perform modern choreography, but it is never vice versa.”
The presentation at Segerstrom Center for the Arts is a co-production with Ardani Artists and features revised choreography by Vladimir Ponomarev and Vakhtang Chabukiani with dances by Konstantin Sergeyev and Nikolai Zubkovsky.
“Yes, (the classical ballets) have undergone different revisions and are different from the originals, but they maintain the strength and purity of the spirit and concept of the classical ballet,” said Fateev. “I am sure that 100 years (from now) the public will be fascinated by the poetry of the ‘shades’ and charm of the swans’ lake.”
The company’s six-show engagement in Costa Mesa will be accompanied live by the Mariinsky Orchestra, one of the oldest musical ensembles in Russia, as they play the original score by Ludwig Minkus.
With this appearance at Segerstrom followed by the company’s performance of George Balanchine’s “Jewels” at The Music Center in Los Angeles October 24-27, Fateev hopes to pay homage to the rich traditions of the Mariinsky Theatre and its countless generations of dancers.
Kaitlin Wright is a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.