Inside the Royal Opera House’s ‘La Bayadère’

The principal dancer Akane Takada takes T&C behind the scenes of this enchanting new production

‘La Bayadère’, with Vadim Muntagirov as Solor and Marianela Nuñez as Nikiya, ROH, 2018. Photograph: Bill Cooper

This November, the Royal Ballet presents Natalia Makarova’s production of Marius Petipa’s 19th-century ballet, La Bayadère, with Ludwig Minkus’s mesmerising music captivating the Covent Garden audience as they enter a magical ancient world of love and subterfuge.

‘La Bayadère’, with artists of the Royal Ballet, ROH, 2018. Photograph: Bill Cooper

La Bayadère tells the story of the noble warrior Solor and the temple dancer Nikiya, who in refusing the love of the High Brahmin unleashes a dramatic chain of events. Her rejected suitor seeks vengeance on her one true love, as well as unknowingly playing into the hands of the cunning Princess Gamzatti, who wants Solor for herself at any cost.   

The production is a visual delight: we are met with glorious scenes of exotic temples, enchanting forests and distant landscapes, all featuring brilliant golds, reds, blues, greens and pinks. The dancers perform their parts with panache, precision and perfect timing, a highlight being the Kingdom of the Shades in Act II, where the corps de ballet descend into view one at a time.

Here, Akane Takada – a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet – talks to T&C about working with Makarova, performing the role of Nikiya and her blossoming career. 

Akane Takada in rehearsal, ROH, 2015. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

What has it been like working with Natalia Makarova, one of the ballet greats?

It has been amazing to work with her. She is such a legend and whenever she demonstrates the movement of Nikiya in rehearsal, it’s just so beautiful to see first-hand.  

You trained at the Bolshoi Academy after starting your career in your home city of Tokyo. What do recall of those days?

I had a great time there and I still keep in touch with my Russian friends. It was a big cultural shift but because I was learning so many different types of dance that I’d never done in Japan, I felt so free to express myself. 

Since 2008, the Royal Ballet has been a second home for you. What is so special about dancing at Covent Garden?

The Royal Ballet has an amazing repertoire of story ballets, including beautiful works like Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet. I think the Company has such amazing skills, both in terms of dancing and perfectly conveying a story, and I learn so much every day just by watching my colleagues, whether in the studio rehearsing or on stage.

If you could go back in time, which dancer in history would like to have worked with and why?

I have watched Jorge Donn’s bolero many times, so I would love to see him live.

What can we expect from this production of La Bayadère?

This production has an incredible drama. Act II in particular is breath-taking to watch, with the corps de ballet creating the Kingdom of the Shades and all working together to create a stunning spectacle on stage. 

La Bayadère is at the Royal Opera House until 17 November, with Akane Takada performing on 6 and 10 November. The production will be relayed live to cinemas around the world on Tuesday 13 November.

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