Page 10, 31st October 2003

31st October 2003
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Page 10, 31st October 2003 — Reaching the heights of kitsch

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Locations: St Petersburg


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Reaching the heights of kitsch

Ballet Robert Tanitch

La Bayadete, Marius Pctipa's faux oriental extravaganza, one of the great 19th century ballets, which had its premiere in St Petersburg in 1877 — the year Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India — was not seen in its entirety in the West for nearly a hundred years. The story has its roots in a drama by Kalidasa, a fifth century Indian dramatist and epic poet. It's all a big excuse for old-fashioned melodrama, exaggerated mime, lavish scenery, exotic dances and classical dancing to incongruous Viennese music by Ludwig Minkus.

Nikiya (Tamara Rojo), one of the bayaderes (dancers in a Hindu temple) falls in love with Solos (Carlos Acosta), an Indian warrior, and spurns the advances of the highly camp High Brahmin. Unfortunately, Solos is engaged to be married to Gamzatti (Marianela Nunez), the daughter of the Rajah. I haven't seen so much bare-midriff kitsch for a long time and it isn't until Acosta is doing his thrilling bravura solos that the production becomes truly interesting. Solos bags women in much the same way that he bags tigers. He swears undying love to two women at the same time and jilts them both. The women have a dramatic face-to-face confrontation in which it really does seem as if they might well start pulling out each other's hair. Since Nikiya is the first to draw a dagger and attempt to kill Gamzatti, it is perfectly reasonable that Ganizatti in self-defence should murder Nikiya (with the aid of a poisonous snake) before Nikiya murders her.

Garnzatti, a sexy, dangerous, imperious, aristocratic beauty, sometimes in yellow, sometimes in fiery red, makes the most impact, upstaging the low-born Nikiya with ease whenever the two girls are on stage together. Dripping in Eastern jewellery, Nunez looks ready to be painted by Gustave Moreau and the symbolists.

The celebrated Kingdom of the Shades act — a vision in Solor's opium-ridden mind -has long been recognised as Petipa's masterpiece. Thirty-two members of the corps came slowly down a ramp, one by one. making an unforgettable, hypnotic entrance. They repeat the same arabesque 38 times. It is one of ballet's

great moments and it always feels as if these ghostly bayadcres could go on forever, creating an endless mirror image of Nikiya. It's a pity the

Royal Opera House can only field 24 dancers.

Natalia Makarova's production (not nearly as thrilling as Rudolf Nureyev's version for the Paris Opera Ballet) ignores the big wedding processions. So, there's no elephant. (Can you imagine an Indian wedding without an elephant?) Makarova, however, does include the once forgotten apocalyptic epilogue in which the temple comes crashing down, killing everybody, a climax, which should be second only to Samson and the Temple of Dagon.

Yohei Sasaki as the Bronze Idol (who, incidentally, is not bronze at all but plastered in glittering gold) creates an electrifying presence. Sensational scenes — shipwrecks, burning buildings, burning steamboats and train crashes — were the stock and trade of Victorian drama. Disaster movies still remain one of Hollywood's most popular genres. The trompe-l'oeil — the temple's masonry, cleverly lit, actually seems to be falling — is surprisingly effective. but the breaking up of the enormous Buddha is so inept as to be comic. The final image of Nikiya and Solos serenely olimbing the cloudy Himalayas on their way to heaven and halting on a little green stairway is absolute kitsch.

Trevor Nunn's wonderful National Theatre production of Cole Porter's Anything Goes – the definitive 1930s musical has got its well-deserved transfer to the West End and it is sheer delight from start to finish. Audiences cannot fail to get an enormous kick out of Porter's score, a delightful and sophisticated mix of musical and verbal flippancy. Stephen Mear's exhilarating choreography is an absolute knockout. Anthony Powell's costumes are extremely elegant. Sally Aim Triplett's red-hot evangelist is the tops. John Barrowman (who might be mistaken for Tom Cruise) acts, sings and dances the romantic lead with an engaging light touch. Martin Marquez's gangster and Annette McLaughlin's sexy, leggy moll are very funny. Simon Day's silly ass is straight out of Wodehouse. The chorus is excellent. I cannot think of a nicer present to give or receive than tickets for Anything Goes. It's perfect for all the family.

La Bayadere continues at the Rowd Opera House until November 12. Box Office: 020 7304 40(X). Anything Goes is at Theatre Royal, Drat), lime. Box office: 0870 160 2878

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