the Ballet
Ballet Encyclopedia

La Bayadère

background information:

La Bayadère is an important connection between the romantic and classical eras of ballet. The ballerinas wear the shorter classical tutus when doing ballet roles, but there are still many romantic movements and La Bayadère predates the major romantic classics by several years.

The word bayadère comes from the Portugese word ballar, meaning dance. Bayadère is French word for an Indian temple dancer, and it is because one of the central characters in La Bayadère is such a temple dancer that La Bayadère is so named. In Russian it is called Bayaderka, the Russian word for an Indian Temple Dancer.

La Bayadère takes place in Hindu India. There were several influences on Petipa and Khudekov's decision to place the ballet in India. First, India was an exotic setting attractive to the romantic audience of the time. Also, at the beginning of the 19th century there were troupes of Indian dancers touring Europe.

La Bayadère is also largely influenced by the opera Aida. This is because Petipa had just finished overseeing the dances for a Russian production of Aida when he choreographed La Bayadère. While Aida is set in Egypt, not India, it is still an exotic foreign, (and warm), location compared to St. Petersburg. Also, several of the characters and their relationship to each other are very similar to characters in the opera.


Solor - a young warrior who is in love with Nikiya, but betrothed to Gamzatti

Nikiya - a temple dancer, (or bayadère), who is in love with Solor

Gamzatti - the Rajah's, (ruler's), daughter who is betrothed to Solor

The High Brahmin - the high priest of the temple. Loved and covets Nikiya, but she does not return his love.


Act I, (the temple) - Solor enters with a party of warriors who have just returned from a successful hunt, having killed a great tiger. They will participate in the lighting of the sacred fire, and Solor hopes to see Nikiya.

The High Brahmin and his entourage of monks then enter, and the High Brahmin summons the Chief Fakir, (a fakir is a very devoted religious person - similar to a monk), who, with the other fakirs lights the sacred fire.

There are several dances of bayadères and fakirs, then the High Brahmin sends for Nikiya, who enters, veiled. The High Brahmin removes Nikiya's veil and there is a solo for Nikiya.

When Nikiya finishes dancing the High Brahmin tells Nikiya of his love for her, and she refuses it, reminding him of his place in the temple.

After more dancing Solor and Nikiya meet and promise themselves to each other over the temple's sacred fire. Unknown to the lovers, the High Brahmin witnesses their oath and vows revenge.

Act II, (a hall in the Rajah's palace) - The Rajah calls for his daughter, Gamzatti, tells her that she is to be betrothed to Solor. She is concerned at first, but after being shown a painting of Solor, falls madly in love. When Solor's arrival is announced the Rajah sends Gamzatti away to veil herself to meet her fiancée.

When Solor arrives Gamzatti returns and is presented to Solor. When her veil is removed, Solor is overcome by her beauty and in a moment of forgetfulness, agrees to marry Gamzatti.

Shortly after, the High Brahmin arrives and tells the Rajah of Solor's previous commitment to Nikiya. Both Solor and Gamzatti overhear the conversation between the High Brahmin and the Rajah and Gamzatti sends for Nikiya. Meanwhile, to the High Brahmin's dismay, the Rajah decides to eliminate Solor's "double" love by killing Nikiya.

When Nikiya arrives, responding to Gamzatti's summon, Gamzatti is in the hall with only Aya, her servant. Gamzatti tries to get Nikiya to deny her commitment to Solor but Nikiya's true love for Solor will not allow her to do this. Gamzatti tries bribing Nikiya with jewels and intimidating her with her social position, but still Nikiya refuses. The conversation becomes more and more heated until in a moment of passion Nikiya seizes a nearby dagger and tries to attack Gamzatti with it. She is stopped by Aya, then runs away realizing what she has done. Gamzatti then vows revenge in addition to the High Brahmin's vow of revenge and the Rajah's desire to kill Nikiya.

Act II Scene II, (the palace gardens) - Many guests arrive to celebrate the betrothal of Solor and Gamzatti and there are several dances of Celebration.

Eventually, Nikiya is told to dance for the betrothed couple, and because it is her job as a dancer to do so, she does albeit very sorrowfully. When she is finished her dance Nikiya tries to leave but is stopped by Aya, who presents Nikiya with a basket of flowers and leads her to believe that they are a gift from Solor.

Nikiya dances again, this time joyfully with the flowers. But as she is dancing, Nikiya discovers a venomous snake hidden in among the blooms, which strikes and bites her.

As Nikiya is dying, the High Brahmin offers her an antidote to the poison on the condition that she will be his. However, since she sees Solor as happily engaged and she will not be able to be with him Nikiya prefers to die. As she dies Solor throws himself by her side in sorrow.

Act III, (Solor's Apartment) - A flautist and a fakir are trying to cheer Solor, with little success. When Solor feigns sleep they slip out as quietly as possible. Solor then enjoys a hookah of opium on his divan, and starts to sense the presence of the shade of Nikiya….

Now begins the Kingdom of the Shades scene. The shades, (usually thirty two of them), enter down a zigzag ramp coming down the back of the stage. They take two steps into an arabesque in plié, then two steps to pose in tendue derriere. This short phrase of movement brings all of the shades on stage in single file. They zigzag down the ramp, then continue down the stage. The lead dancer has to repeat the phrase an incredible number of times, with the same leg every time. The first dancers develop an incredibly strong arabesque on one side.

The shades then dance, exhibiting superb corps work and several solos and smaller groups. Also, both the "Entrance of Nikiya" pas de deux and the Scarf pas de deux take place during this act.

The third act usually ends with the shades and Solor and Nikiya in a grand pose.

Act IV, (the temple) - Because of the complex stage machinery required to stage it, this act is often left out of full length presentations of La Bayadère.

When Solor awoke from his dream of the shades he found Gamzatti still determined to marry him, and it is now their wedding day. As they are at the temple Solor thinks he sees the shade of Nikiya and is distracted. This upsets Gamzatti, but they continue with the wedding. Then, at the moment the couple is taking their vows the gods fill the temple with smoke and destroy it in anger over Solor and Gamzatti's false love, killing all within. Solor and Nikiya are happily reunited in the afterlife.

of note:
The Kingdom of the Shades

Notable because it is a nearly perfect example of the ballet-blanc that has become a symbol of ballet "The Kingdom of the Shades" is quite often performed on its own. It is this scene that inspired critic Clive Barnes to write "If you don't enjoy La Bayadère, you really don't enjoy ballet" in 1963.

Scarf Pas de Deux

Called "Adagio with Gauze for Solor and Nikiya" in Nureyev's version of La Bayadère, this pas de deux between Solor and Nikiya takes place in the "Kingdom of the Shades" scene and is unique because the dancers do not directly touch each other. Instead they dance at opposite ends of a long scarf and give the illusion that Solor is supporting her from this distance.

Act III Pas de Deux, (Entrance of Nikiya)

This pas de deux is the closest thing to a grand pas de deux in La Bayadère. It is an incredibly beautiful adagio if well executed. In this pas de deux we feel that Solor senses Nikiya's presence, and possibly does not really see her. This, in addition to the slow, sustained lines created, make this one of the showpieces of La Bayadère.

Bronze Idol

The Bronze Idol, (also called "Golden Idol" and "Little God"), is an incredibly demanding men's variation. Dressed only in a dance belt and headpiece, the dancer paints his entire body gold for this variation.

Oddly enough. The Bronze Idol was not part of the original Bayadère. It was first performed in 1948 by its choreographer Nikolai Zubkovsky. If all four acts of the ballet are being performed the Bronze Idol is performed at the beginning of the Fourth act, if only the first three acts are being performed it is danced in the second act.

La Bayadère Men's Variation

Occurring in the "Kingdom of the Shades" scene the men's variation from La Bayadère is one of the harder variations that exist. It has many vary large jumps dominated by cabrioles and an awesome manege at the end.