Boston Ballet opens its much anticipated 50th season with La Bayadère, the classic ballet of love, betrayal, and vengeance, set in an exotic and opulent kingdom in ancient India. Boston Ballet featured the world première of this production in 2010, with choreography by Florence Clerc after Marius Petipa, and music by Ludwig Minkus. An epic love story, technically challenging choreography for soloist and corps, and breathtakingly lavish sets and costumes (by Sergiy Spevyakin), this ballet is the perfect opening for a season celebrating and showcasing all that Boston Ballet has accomplished under the leadership of Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen and Executive Director Barry Hughson.

La Bayadère © Gene Schiavone
La Bayadère
© Gene Schiavone

Opening night featured Lia Cirio as Nikiya, the most beautiful of temple dancers (Bayadères), who is in love with Solor, a warrior, danced by Lasha Khozashvili. Nikiya's beauty has also captured the attention of the High Brahmin (performed by second soloist, Bo Busby) who after discovering her love for Solor, vows to kill him. In a twist of fate, Solor is commanded to marry the Rajah’s daughter, Gamzatti (danced by a regal Dusty Button), but cannot forget the love that he shared with Nikiya. The High Brahmin, still consumed by his love for Nikiya, informs the Rajah of her affair with Solor, hoping that the Rajah will kill him. His plan backfires, and instead the Rajah vows to kill Nikiya. It is a difficult tale to tell in ballet mime, but one that the company accomplishes. (As evidenced by my ballet date, who proudly informed me of the story after each act, without referencing the program synopsis.)

The first act is filled with storytelling, leaving little room for dancing. However, the second act opens with the betrothal scene of Gamzatti and Solor, where celebratory dancing abounds. The stand-out of this scene, one of the most famous and challenging male solos, is that of the Golden Idol. Danced by the infallible Jeffrey Cirio, painted from head-to-toe in gold paint, this solo is in equal parts stiff, stylized, statue-like movement, and grand virtuoso male dancing, making it an incredibly difficult piece to perform. Mr Cirio walks this line extremely well, with turns stopping on a dime and jumps soaring through the air, despite the quirky arm and head movements required. The effect of a dancing golden statue was expertly realized.

The opening night of Boston Ballet’s La Bayadère had some stiff competition for audience attendance from another Boston “cultural” happening on Thursday. The World Series rolled into town this week, a difficult event to ignore in Boston, no matter your physical location within the city or level of interest. Much to my disappointment, the previously packed house had some empty seats entering the third act. While I certainly have an affinity for the home team, not even the most thrilling, tied-in-the-bottom-of-the-ninth, nail-biting game would have me leave my seat before experiencing act three of La Bayadère. I say “experiencing” because this is not a scene that you simply observe – the mesmerizing repetitive nature of the dancing in this act becomes almost meditative, quieting the mind and dazzling the senses.

This scene takes place within a drug-induced dream of Solor’s, who, in an effort to ease his pain after Nikiya’s death, takes opium and hallucinates that he and his one true love are reunited. One dancer enters the dimly lit forest scene, and performs the sequence until all twenty-four dancers, dressed in gauzy white tutus, have formed a zigzagging procession across the full length of the stage. On Thursday night, the opening sequence was performed flawlessly, and the illusion of one mirrored reflection repeating infinitely was absolutely dazzling. The following sequence of the corps dancers executing balance after balance, and the technically demanding solos of the Three Shades, had some wobbly legs that I will attribute to opening night jitters. Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili showed no signs of fatigue as they closed the show with a strong yet mournful final pas de deux. Mr Khozashvili’s jumps had impressive height, and Ms Cirio’s turns (accompanied by a long white scarf linking her to her lover’s hand) were precise. Both dancers gave wonderfully emotive performances that helped to bring the story to life.

I pity the attendees who left prior to this stunning final act, missing one of the most iconic moments in classical ballet, presumably to watch the last few innings of a game that didn’t turn out so well for the home team. I’ve been attending Boston Ballet productions for nearly a decade now, and it has been thrilling to see how far the company has come, technically and artistically, to achieve the world-class status it holds today. The Sox may have choked that night, but opening the 50th season with La Bayadère, Boston Ballet certainly hit a home run.