Ill-fated love, desire, opium dreams and vengeful gods. The Australian première of Stanton Welch’s ballet blockbuster La Bayadère is full of passion and Bollywood drama.
Set in a romanticised vision of India, this spectacular re-imagining of a 19th century classic makes its Australian premiere at Arts Centre Melbourne on 28 August for 12 performances only, before moving to Sydney Opera House from 6 November.
Created in 2010 for the 40th anniversary of the Houston Ballet, Stanton Welch’s La Bayadère follows the epic tale of temple dancer Nikiya who falls in love with the warrior Solor. A kaleidoscope of beauty, colour and spell-binding movement, La Bayadere traces their fight for love, and the vengeance that keeps them apart. Spiced with opulent sets and costumes by acclaimed English designer Peter Farmer, La Bayadère evokes a dramatic vision of the exotic East.
The third act features one of the most infamous and beautiful scenes in ballet today – the Kingdom of the Shades. Showcasing 24 female dancers in white tutus, executing 38 synchronised and seamless arabesques while descending onto the stage, it demands absolute precision and control from the corps de ballet. Ballet Blanc, characterized by the use of white tutus, represents the pinnacle of 19th century romantic ballet. It is said that the story of Nikiya is not only one of ballet’s most treasured love stories, but a company milestone.
Eloise Fryer, who plays temple dancer, says practice for the ballet begins soon. “I am in the third act which is very famous. There are 24 shades or female dancers and I am one of them. It is quite difficult and it is the part where the prince has had some opium and is in a dream state. I play an evil character in the play and I plot the scheme to kill Nikiya with the snake.”
Joining the company onstage for La Bayadère will be some of the biggest international names in dance today. Two of Stuttgart Ballet’s most popular dancers, Elisa Badenes and Daniel Camargo, will guest star with The Australian Ballet during the Melbourne season. In a thrilling first, prima ballerina at American Ballet Theatre, Gillian Murphy, will make her debut with The Australian Ballet during the Sydney season of La Bayadère.
The Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet, David McAllister, says the opportunity to see three of ballet’s great is not one to be missed. “This is a rare opportunity to see one of American Ballet Theatre’s biggest stars on Australian soil plus two of the most dynamic and popular dancers we have ever hosted.”
La Bayadère was originally conceived by Marius Petipa and premiered on February 4, 1877 at the Bolshoi Theatre in St Petersburg. Resident Choreographer of The Australian Ballet and Artistic Director of Houston Ballet, Welch brings a masterful dimension to the classic, crafting the story with unrivalled dance technique and Bollywood sass.
“We have done something more Bollywood in the past as well. We played a version of Romeo and Juliet where we had a modern setting unlike this one which is an ancient and perhaps exotic setting,” says Fryer, adding, “It is very classical.”
Frye, who is into her seventh year with the Australian ballet team, says she is very excited about the ‘beautiful costumes and the sparkles on our head”. Ballet touches every subject, she says. “We have different stories. This one is very Indian.”
Right now the team that will play La Bayadère is on the move. In a few days they will be readying for this big blockbuster ballet on a big, lavish set and give Melbourne a taste of Bollywood via its ballet.