The Joffrey Ballet’s Victoria Jaiani as Nikiya in “La Bayadere: The Temple Dancer.” | PHOTO BY CHERYL MANN
THE TEMPLE DANCER’
When: Through Oct. 27
Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress
Tickets : $31-$152
Info: (800) 982-2987; joffrey.org
Run time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, with two intermissions
Updated: April 14, 2014 4:49PM
Had Cecil B. DeMille choreographed ballets rather than directed film epics he would have created “La Bayadere: The Temple Dancer.” This classic story ballet, first danced in Russia in 1877, and now on stage at the Auditorium Theatre, where the Joffrey Ballet is performing Stanton Welch’s flamboyant adaptation of the Marius Petipa original, draws on the whole grand-scale vocabulary.
Set in a fanciful royal India, “La Bayadere” includes live snakes, metallic-tinted gods, a hashish-smoking hero and dagger-wielding heroine, midriff-baring women who beguile in this world, and veiled spirits who move hauntingly in the next.
“La Bayadere,” with exquisite painted curtains and bejeweled costumes by Peter Farmer, also includes much fiendishly difficult dancing. And while its melodramatic love quadrangle can sometimes elicit laughter, its demanding pas de deux and (no doubt terrifying) showcase for the female corps generate pure pleasure.
The story, in brief: After Solor (Dylan Gutierrez) saves the temple dancer Nikiya (Victoria Jaiani) from a tiger the two instantly fall in love. The problem is, the High Brahmin (Fabrice Calmels) also is in love with Nikiya, who rejects him. In addition, Solor’s undesired reward for his act of courage — the honor of marrying the Rajah’s daughter, Gamzatti (April Daly) — results in chaos, jealousy and grief.
Gutierrez, tall, lean and ideally proportioned, has emerged as a formidable leading man with wonderfully light leaps and barrel turns, perfectly nailed landings and unaffected acting. He also has grown into a superb partner, supporting Jaiani in many heartstopping lifts and Daly in a series of whiplash turns. The two women are each splendid in their own ways, with the sensual Jaiani the true mistress of the spirit world and Daly full of flash, fire and fine balances as Gamzatti.
The towering Calmels needs only stand in place to exert his power, while Derrick Agnoletti, as his spy, darts around the stage like a dangerous wildfire. Erica Lynette Edwards is wonderfully scheming as Gamzatti’s handmaiden. The easily airborn John Mark Giragosian and dramatic Rory Hohenstein dance the gods of Fire and Dreams with verve.
Solor’s third act Kingdom of the Shades hallucination is key to any “La Bayadere” — a test of total control as 18 dancers in pearl white tutus gradually step down a steep ramp and into formation in a series of precision-tuned arabesques. Cara Marie Gary, Anastacia Holden, Jeraldine Mendoza, Amber Neumann and Amanda Assucena excelled in variations.
The Chicago Philharmonic, under Scott Speck, not only makes the most of the Ludwig Minkus score, but shapes every beat to enhance the dancers.