Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre closes its season with its biggest story ballet ever

Alexandra Kochis as Nikiya. Photo by Duane Rieder.
Alexandra Kochis as Nikiya. Photo by Duane Rieder.

By Steve Sucato

Love triangles, jealousy, murder and the afterlife all come together in one of classical ballet’s grandest spectacles, La Bayadère (“The Temple Dancer”). To mark Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s 45thanniversary, the company will offer for the first time a full-length version of the ballet with orchestra, in four performances April 17-19, at the Benedum Center.

The two-hour milestone production in three acts is the company’s biggest story ballet ever. As staged by PBT artistic director Terrence Orr, it blends Marius Petipa’s 1877 original and subsequent versions of the ballet that Orr has fashioned into his own.

“It’s a pretty serious classical work with a very serious story — geez, it’s complicated,” says Orr about La Bayadère‘s narrative. The ballet follows the bayadère Nikiya and the warrior Solor, who have sworn eternal fidelity to each other. But The High Brahmin, too, is in love with Nikiya, and the Rajah has chosen Solor to marry his daughter Gamzatti. Fates collide; hearts are broken; but in the end, love triumphs in this beautiful and technically demanding ballet with more than 100 roles.
Christopher Budzynski as the Bronze Idol. Photo by Duane Rieder.
Christopher Budzynski as the Bronze Idol. Photo by Duane Rieder.

Among the most memorable roles is that of the Bronze Idol (Golden, in many versions) in the second act. In his fifth season with PBT, principal dancer Yoshiaki Nakano (returning from a foot injury) is one of the dancers to take on this solo role, which lasts just minutes but is filled with bravura jumps and turns. “It’s iconic,” says Nakano. The high-flying Nagano will also dance the lead role of Solor.

While the ballet’s main characters provide a plethora of great dancing, perhaps the most recognizable and visually captivating dancing comes from the corps de ballet in Act III’s “Kingdom of the Shades” scene. It features 24 of PBT’s female corps dancers entering down a double ramp in a row, executing a succession of arabesques.

“It’s gorgeous but very challenging,” says Olivia Kelly. Says fellow “Shade” JoAnna Schmidt of the role, “It feels kind of like rowing in that we all have to be synchronized for it to work.” Of La Bayadère, Schmidt adds, “For everyone, the dancing requires a lot of control, and if you don’t have proper technique it really shows. You can’t fake it to make it.”

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre performs La Bayadère, Fri., April 17-Sun., April 19, Benedum Center, 719 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $27-89. 412-456-6666 or www.pbt.org

This article first appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper on April 8, 2015. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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