Although La Bayadère remained in the repertory of many Russian companies throughout the 20th century, it was little seen in the west until 1961 when The Kirov Ballet performed The Kingdom of the Shades scene at The Royal Opera House in London. In 1963, Rudolph Nureyev staged a version of The Kingdom of the Shades for England's The Royal Ballet. In 1980, the great Russian ballerina Natalia Markova staged the first full-length production of La Bayadère in the west for American Ballet Theatre to critical acclaim. In 1992, Mr. Nureyev also staged a full-length version for Paris Opera Ballet.
Although the exact origin of the story of La Bayadère is unknown, it is an example of 19th century Romantic ballets set in an exotic location with a fascination with the Orient, spiritualism, triangular relationships, ethereal beings and melodramatic plot lines. A number of operas and ballets were created about "bayadères" - IndIan Temple dancers - at that time. Despite the ballet's setting in ancient India, Ludwig Minkus's music and Petipa's choreography barely made any gesture to traditional forms of Indian dance and music, as the ballet was a vision of the Orient seen through 19th century European eyes, particularly since it was produced during the height of the British Raj (Queen Victoria of England took the title Empress of India in 1877). Petipa's choreography contained various elements that reminded the spectator of the ballet's setting, but he did not stray from the classical ballet canon. Petipa was not interested in ethnographic accuracy in any part of the ballet with regards to choreography. It was the fashion of the time, whether a ballet was set in China, India, or the Middle East. The ballet master rarely - if ever - considered including traditional native dance forms.
La Bayadère is set to the music of Viennese composer Ludwig Minkus (1826-1917), in an arrangement by John Lanchbery. The composer of over 20 ballets, Minkus was an excellent craftsman in the style of ballet music of his day. Born in Vienna in 1826, Minkus was a ballet composer and violinist. From 1864-1871, he was the official ballet composer at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. In 1871, he was transferred to St. Petersburg, where he worked until 1891.
On February 17, 1969 a troupe of 15 young dancers made its stage debut at Sam Houston State Teacher's College in Huntsville, Texas. Since that time, Houston Ballet has evolved into a company of 55 dancers with a budget of $20.5 million (making it the United States' fourth largest ballet company by number of dancers), a state-of-the-art performance space built especially for the company, Wortham Theater Center; the largest professional dance facility in America, Houston Ballet's $46.6 million Center for Dance which opened in April 2011, and an endowment of just over $57.6 million (as of May 2011).
Australian choreographer Stanton Welch has served as artistic director of Houston Ballet since 2003, raising the level of the company's classical technique and commissioning many new works from dance makers such as Christopher Bruce, Jorma Elo, James Kudelka, Julia Adam, Natalie Weir and Nicolo Fonte. James Nelson serves as the administrative leader of the company, assuming the position of executive director of Houston Ballet in February 2012 after serving as the company's general manager for over a decade.
Houston Ballet has toured extensively both nationally and internationally. Since 2000, the company has appeared in London at Sadler's Wells, at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, Ottawa, in six cities in Spain, in Montréal, at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in New York at City Center and The Joyce Theater, and in cities large and small across the United States. Houston Ballet has emerged as a leader in the expensive, labor-intensive task of nurturing the creation and development of new full-length narrative ballets.
Writing in Dancing Times in June 2012, dance critic Margaret Willis praised Houston Ballet and highlighted the fact that "During his own tenure, (Stanton) Welch has upped the standard and Houston Ballet now shows off a group of 55 dancers in splendid shape. With fast and tidy footwork, they are technically skillful and have strong, broad jumps and expansive, fluid movements. The dancers' musicality shines through their work, dancing as one with elegance and refinement -and they are a handsome bunch too!...if ballet were an Olympic sport, see Houston Ballet well on the way to achieving gold."
Houston Ballet Orchestra was established in the late 1970s and currently consists of 61 professional musicians who play all ballet performances at Wortham Theater Center under music director Ermanno Florio.
Houston Ballet's Education and Outreach Program has reached over 20,500 Houston area students (during the 2011-2012 season). Houston Ballet's Academy has 509 students and has had four academy students win prizes at the prestigious international ballet competition the Prix de Lausanne, with one student winning the overall competition in 2010. For more information on Houston Ballet visit www.houstonballet.org.
Performances will take place at 7:30 PM tonight, February 21 and the 23rd, and March 1, 2013 and at 2:00 PM on February 24, and March 2, 3, 2013 at the Brown Theater, Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Avenue in downtown Houston.
Tickets: Start at $19. Call (713) 227 ARTS or 1 800 828 ARTS. Tickets are also available at www.houstonballet.org and Houston Ballet Box Office at Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Ave. (at Smith St.) Visit Houston Ballet on the web at www.houstonballet.org
Pictured: Nozomi Iijima in La Bayadere.