K-Ballet Company, led by former Royal Ballet principal Tetsuya Kumakawa, marked their 15th anniversary by creating a new production of La Bayadere. La Bayadere is a very special ballet for Kumakawa – he first danced the Bronze Idol solo at the age of 17 shortly after joining the Royal Ballet, and his performance was highly praised by Rudolf Nureyev. This is the 10th full-length ballet that Kumakawa has directed – each time he adds a twist, but handles the dramaturgy well and creates an enjoyable work with both critical and commercial success.

La Bayadere, choreographed by Marius Petipa in 1877 is a story of a complicated love affair between the warrior Solor, temple dancer Nikiya, and Gamzatti, the beautiful daughter of Rajah. Murder, betrayal and jealousy occupies the ballet as much as the beautiful corps de ballet and virtuoso solos.

Kumakawa’s revision of La Bayadere follows the original context for the first act but attempts to make it speedier and more understandable. He has omitted several dances, such as the Manu dance, dance with parrots and Nikiya’s dance with the slave. On the other hand, he has enhanced the juicier parts – pas d'action, Indian dance, and the opening with the Fakirs, which featured much virtuosic dancing by the male dancers. He focused on the relationship of the three main characters, Nikiya, Solor and Gamzatti – their love and hate drama portrayal was made very clear. The results were apparent, very entertaining and it was easy to follow the storylines.  

The big changes Kumakawa made altered the Kingdom of the Shades scene and the aftermath. Solor himself enters into the corps de ballet visions, and, after meeting Nikiya in his vision, Solor and Gamzatti are both punished for their sins, their betrayal and murder of Nikiya, and are killed. The collapse of the temple was by natural causes, not because of god’s wrath. The Bronze Idol dances at the finale to pray for their souls and reconstruct a new world after the destruction, while the lovers are united in the afterlife.

At first Kukamawa was focusing on his direction and choreography, and not intending to perform in this production. However, while rehearsing this ballet he felt the desire to dance the role of Solor and followed his instincts. Kumakawa, well-known for his flawless classical technique, is now 42 but still on top form. The double cabrioles in the betrothal ceremony solo had so much elevation, and he made beautifully pirouettes of 10 consecutive turns. The double assembles in the Kingdom of the Shades variation were performed with bravura, clean landings and good ballon. With his Royal Ballet trained acting, he was successful in portraying the irresolute character of Solor, passionately in love with Nikiya but also falling easily for the beauty and wealth of Gamzatti, ruthlessly abandoning Nikiya when she is bitten fatally by a snake that Gamzatti arranged.

Yuko Arai performed the sacred temple dancer, Nikiya, strong-willed but ardently loving Solor. Her grief following her betrayal by Solor appeared tearfully in her solo with the flower basket, so much in contrary with the bliss shown in her pas de deux with Solor in the beginning. Arai has strong technique and the difficult veil variation was danced with ease – airy and ethereal. Ayumi Shiraishi as Gamzatti showed an arrogant princess with cruelty, her cat-fight with Nikiya was fierce and her determination to wipe out Nikiya was so clear, clear as her gorgeous Italian fouettes executed marvelously in her betrothal.

The iconic Kingdom of the Shades scene was danced breathtakingly beautifully, with the 24 corps de ballet dancers in uniform and without a sound or tremble, showing the high standard of K-Ballet dancers. The Bronze Idol, a special role with added importance for Kumakawa, was performed by Shoma Ikemoto who exceeded expectations, with his Buddha-like movements and high leaps.

K-Ballet Company is also known for its lavish costumes and stage designs. Dick Bird's designs created the mysterious and exotic Indian atmosphere marvelously, with huge statues of bayaderes, true-to-life elephants and gorgeous costumes. This production might be lacking in depth, but a first-class entertainment that even non-balletomanes can enjoy and broaden the audience of classical ballet.