La Bayadère: A Fascinating Experience


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La Bayadère, a masterpiece by Marius Petipa in the rendition of Vesa Tonova, Sofia Opera House’s prima ballerina, was brought to life onstage in Burgas.

Marius Petipa was the first to choreograph the ballet La Bayadère to a score by Ludwig Minkus (librettists: Sergei Khudekov, Marius Petipa), which had its premiere in St Petersburg, in 1877. The story, which is given an ancient Indian flavour, is based on the dramatic experience of a bayadère, a temple dancer Nikiya smitten with the noble warrior Solor. The production of this ballet is a tricky task, involving many sumptuous and pricey costumes and a large ballet company. Marius Petipa’s notes suppose one hundred performers in the scene of the procession alone. Vesa Tonova, whose staging in her own words ‘is based on the Mariinsky Theatre’s production in St Petersburg’[1], has succeeded in adapting the production to the potential of the Burgas-based ballet company and translating the work’s expressiveness almost in its entirety regardless of some shortened or omitted dances and the smaller troupe.


The entire Act I is staged with a lot of dynamism and precision. A good synchrony has been reached in the performance of female dances. The efforts Vesa Tonova has invested in building her choreography, characters and the synchrony in the corps de ballet did tell.

Quite expectedly, Vesa Tonova herself plays the tender and lyrical Nikiya: a soulful and smitten with Solor female protagonist. Her light touch and charm in the dance add to the tender character and immaculateness of the besotted girl. I’d mention here Galina Kalcheva’s yet another achievement as Gamzatti. Here again she builds the character of the Rajah’s imperious and haughty daughter with confidence and her habitual ballet technique. The emblematic Pantomime scene (true to the author) between the two female characters and Nikiya’s attempt to stab Gamzatti to death are rendered very artistically, precisely and masterly. The struggle for spiritual supremacy is in the air all around, capturing the audience’s attention.


The Dance of the Indians, with its exuberant dynamism and artistry is also worth all the praise. Both in this dance and in the role of Magedaveya, Ognian Ivanov impresses with his industriousness and his apparent choice to be typecast in such roles.

One of the emblematic and widely popular scenes in Act III is that of the Kingdom of the Shades, often performed independently. An intoxicated Solor finds himself among the Shades: A sequence of mythical creatures is emerging upstage in a monotonous succession, creating an impression of something magic and mysterious, of the other world, that of the Shades. The dancing ensemble in the Kingdom of the Shades is outside the purview of words: it unrolls slowly onstage depending on time and space alone, a visualisation of music and architecture. This mood is successfully achieved by choreographer Vesa Tonova regardless of the smaller number of performers. Even the participation of the young ballet dancers from Pancho Vladigerov National School of Music and Stage Arts, Burgas comes as a pleasant surprise. Still, more work is required to perfect some of the classical elements and the general synchrony.

Soloists of Sofia Opera House are also involved in the production. I’d like to underscore the Golden Idol brilliantly rendered by Alexander Alexandrov in the Dance of the Golden Idol (he plays the same role in La Bayadère of Sofia Opera House). He made a very good showing.

Doichin Doichev as Solor dances technically and with easiness; still, the young ballet dancer (a graduate of the National School of Dance Art, Sofia; presently, soloist of Skopje Opera House) could be more convincing in his actorly building of the character.

As is the case with any production, this one is also not faultless due at times to fatigue or inexperience, but this is, in my opinion, only natural in a process that never mars the artistic merits of La Bayadère.


Ivan Tokadjiev’s stage design is good enough and meant to be moved in on smaller stages regardless of the fact that La Bayadère is a rather large-scale ballet. The costumes by Tsvetanka Petkova–Stoinova, though opulent and fabulous, could have been a little bit more Indian, especially the accessories and the props.

A good point of the production is a nice feeling at the end stirred by an aesthetically rendered ballet show owing to Vesa Tonova’s good job. The staging of the piece in Burgas is an achievement in itself as La Bayadère belongs to the treasure trove of the classical repertoires of grand ballet companies with its scale, many soloists and incessant dances, being a touchstone by which ballet troupe that has ventured to put it on its stage, is judged. Praises for the ballet of Burgas Opera House!

[1] The programme quotes her as saying so.

La Bayadère: A Fascinating Experience

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