The National Ballet of Japan’s current production of La Bayadere was staged by former artistic director Asami Maki. Some of the dances, such as the pas de deux between Nikiya and the slave, and the Indian dances have been dropped, but otherwise the ballet is very much like the original production. In this 19th century grand classic by Petipa, the strengths – and weaknesses – of dancers can be easily identified, and here we could really see the maturity of the company.

Vadim Muntagirov, a rising star and principal dancer of the Royal Ballet guested in the role of Solor. Muntagirov already performed with The National Ballet in Giselle and Sleeping Beauty. Along with his bravura technique, stage presence and star power, he does a great job of blending in with the company and so looks at home on stage with the company. This is thanks to his great skills, both as a dramatic dancer and as a brilliant partner. He was here coached by his former stage partner Daria Klimentova ( ex principal dancer of English National Ballet ) who actively participated in the production. Muntagirov might have been a little too princely for this role, but his magnificent manège of double assemblés with perfect landings were those of a warrior, and his arched-back down on one knee finishing poses were stunningly iconic.

Two top ballerinas of the company were striving to win the love of Solor: Ayako Ono, as the temple dancer Nikiya, and Yui Yonezawa as the Rajah’s daughter, Gamzatti. Ono is a delicate and petite dancer, with a lyrical movement quality, and clarity of movement. Usually a princess-type with innocent-looking features, she was here a mature woman who takes pride in her dedication to god and destiny as a temple dancer, as well as being deeply in love with Solor. In her solo with the flower basket, Ono was that tragic dancer figure, with heart-wrenching emotions pouring from her fingers, a moment of delight evident while being bestowed the gift, and then despair overtaking when Solor turns away from her when she was bit by a snake.

It was Yonezawa’s debut as Gamzatti. Known for her strong technique and girl-next-door charm, it must have been a challenge role for her to embody but she was great as the two-faced woman; at times the charming princess and then the arrogant royal who wipes out her rival in cold blood. The fight between the two prima ballerinas was thrilling : how Yonezawa’s Gamzatti despised Nikiya as a low-class dancer and vowed for her death were carried out intensely. 

The corps de ballet created a magical atmosphere in the Kingdom of the Shades. Watching the 32 ballerinas descend the triple-sloped rake I could feel time standing still. Their perfect uniformity and serenity were breathtaking. Along with the shades, Ono's and Muntagirov’s pas de deux were smooth, and theirs is a fine partnership. Even in the intricate veil pas de deux, Ono’s attitude turns and pirouettes were delightfully musical, their souls united in this illusion.

But one factor lets the whole production down. After the temple collapses, under the wrath of the gods, Nikiya’s spirit ascends. Solor chases her but fails to catch her veil and he dies alone, being left behind by her; as if Asami Maki, who choreographed this ending, could not forgive Solor's betrayal of Nikiya.

Maylen Tleubaev was an expressive High Brahmin, madly in love with Nikiya and opening his whole heart to her. One even wonders whether the collapse of the temples might have been caused by his sorrow. Akimitsu Yahata shone as the Bronze Idol with his gravity-defying ballon and swift pirouettes. This production boasted the high standard of the company and it is a great shame there were only four performances in this run. Last but not least, Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Alexei Baklan, was brilliant in creating the epic and dramatic atmosphere,and leveraging the quality of this magnificent performance.

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