La Bayadère

The Tragic Tale of a Temple Dancer and Her Love

La Bayadere
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"La Bayadère," a classic ballet in four acts and seven tableaux, was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and performed to music composed by Ludwig Minkus. The production debuted in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1877 at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theater. The enduring tale of love, betrayal, and redemption is considered one of the best-loved classical ballets of all time.


The action takes place in the royal court of ancient India. As the story unfolds, the audience learns that Nikiya, a beautiful temple dancer ("La Bayadère" is French for "temple maiden" or "temple dancer"), is in love with a young warrior named Solor and he is in love with her—but their love is not to be.

The High Brahmin is also in love with Nikiya. He plots to ensure Solor and Nikiya can never be together. Against his wishes, Solor becomes betrothed to the Rajah's scheming daughter, Gamzatti. During the betrothal ceremony, Nikiya is forced to dance, after which she receives a basket of flowers. Unbeknownst to her, the floral tribute comes courtesy of her rival, the spiteful Gamzatti and contains a deadly snake. The snake bites Nikiya; mortally wounded, Nikiya dies.

Solor dreams of reuniting with Nikiya in the afterlife, or "Kingdom of the Shades." Sadly, when he awakens, he realizes that he is still engaged to the Rajah's daughter. During the wedding ceremony, Solor has a vision of Nikiya. As he makes his vows, he believes he is making them to his lost love, not to Gamzatti. The gods, infuriated by the human treachery that has been perpetrated, destroy the palace. At the end of the ballet, Solor and Nikiya reunite in the spirit in the Kingdom of the Shades.

Production History

Today, there are several versions of "La Bayadère" being performed throughout the world. Even if you've never viewed the full production, there's still a good chance you may have seen at least part of it. "The White Act," commonly known as "The Kingdom of the Shades," was first presented as a stand-alone piece in March 1903 at Peterhof Palace in Russia. Featuring 32 female dancers garbed in white, the exquisite dance interlude is considered to be one of the most celebrated excerpts in the classical ballet repertoire.

Most modern interpretations of “La Bayadère” stem from a much-abbreviated version of the original mounted in Leningrad by the Kirov Ballet in 1941 that was created by Vakhtang Chabukiani and Vladimir Ponomarev. In 1980, Natalia Makarova's vision for the show, which incorporated parts of the Chabukiani and Ponomarev version, was performed by the American Ballet Theatre on stages across the world.

During 1991, Rudolf Nureyev planned to revive the ballet based on the traditional Ponomarev/Chabukiani version for the Paris Opera Ballet. His production premiered at the Paris Opera (or Palais Garnier) in 1992. In it, Isabelle Guérin played Nikiya, Laurent Hilaire was Solor, and Élisabeth Platel took the role of the evil Gamzatti. In 2000, the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet launched a revival of Petipa's original 1900 production.