Alice Mariani and Martina Arduino © Brescia & Amisano - Teatro alla Scala

Nureyev’s “La Bayadère” for the first time in Milan

After being forced to cancel all the performances of La Bayadère scheduled during the holiday season except the opening night due to COVID outbreaks in the company, La Scala Theatre postponed the shows at the end of January.

It is the first time Rudolf Nureyev’s version of this milestone of the classical repertoire is staged in a place other than the Paris Opera.  As everybody knows, Nureyev’s La Bayadère ends with the Shades act. There is no temple disruption. A choice, made in 1992 for technical reasons as well as for Nureyev’s declining health, that makes this three-act version a very well-balanced one. The visually intoxicating production created for the Paris Opera Ballet by Ezio Frigerio and Franca Squarciapino is replaced in Milan by sets and costumes designed by Luisa Spinatelli; the scenographies are sometimes very similar to the ones designed by Spinatelli herself for Grigorovich’s version at the Korean National Ballet.

On the occasion of the last performance, La Scala is not as crowded as usual – the pandemic still persists and all the spectators have to wear FFP2 masks. 99 percent of them does so, and a preshow announcement remembers that wearing masks is not only mandatory but also a sign of respect towards the other viewers. Hats off to the Milanese theatre.
First soloist Martina Arduino, who is having her Milan debut as the temple dancer Nikiya, is resolute and determined, there’s no pain nor fear in her entrance nor in her first solo. She makes the High Brahmin, who is madly in love with her, look more a bother than a worry.

Martina Arduino © Brescia & Amisano – Teatro alla Scala

Newly appointed First Soloist of the company Marco Agostino as Solor is acutely passionate – he is a lithe warrior more than a macho tiger-hunter. He professes his love for Nikiya at every step.
Then why does he betray her?

The Rajah has decided he must marry his beautiful daughter Gamzatti. And Solor can’t make a stand, Agostino’s performance clearly shows it.

As Gamzatti Soloist Alice Mariani, who joined the company at the beginning of this season after leaving the Semperoper Ballet in Dresden, is a charming daddy’s girl: she fascinates the whole palace well knowing everyone is forced to always say yes and to agree with her.

Alice Mariani and Marco Agostino © Brescia & Amisano

Martina Arduino and Marco Agostino © Brescia & Amisano

The only one who is not doing so is Nikiya, who doesn’t give up to her pure love for Solor. In the confrontation scene, at the end of Act 1, Arduino is nearly furious, not intimidated enough by Mariani’s peevish Gamzatti. Mariani, for her part, is more miffed than heartbroken, yet her final fierce glare is ominous like a threat.

Act 2 sumptuous grand pas de deux is a triumph. Marco Agostino confidently glides across the stage. Alice Mariani dances her variation with cut-glass sparkle and explosive jumps before delivering stunning fouettés en dedans in the coda – a promise that the princess will get the better of the temple dancer.

It is almost a shame the betrothal celebration must end. Even though Martina Arduino masters Nikiya’s death variation with a steady connection to the floor and without overacting, letting her arms speak.

Sadly, there’s room for inaccuracies at the beginning of Act 3, when the shades in white tutus slowly descend a slope, in a series of arabesques penchées – the corps ballerinas are not enough in unison, and when the arabesques aren’t perfectly aligned it is hard to imagine Solor having a vision of identical ghosts.

Luckily in the rest of the Kingdom of the Shades Arduino and Agostino float through their duets with confident phrasing and a surprising balance of lightness and strength. It is unfortunate that Agostino struggles to execute Solor’s manège of double assemblé turns, but their finale is full of ardent nobility all the same.

Alessandro Bizzotto