Holy Kingdom of the Shades! This past Sunday I got my first taste of the entrance of the Shades in La Bayadère's second act. If you're not familiar with the plot, it's the part where grief-stricken warrior Solor is tripping on opium and seeing multiple mirror images of dead Nikiya, the love of his life. The Shades, as they are called, descend down a ramp - as if from the heavens above - reapeating the same step over and over. Arabesque, plié into fourth, port de bras, step, step, step into arabesque, plié into fourth and so on..
I lost count after 24 or so, but there should be 32 arabesques for each dancer to perform. What kills me about this entrance is that you are supposed to do the arabesques all on the same leg! Lower back spasm alert! Thankfully, our teacher/dancer Mira showed mercy and allowed us to switch legs with each direction. Phew. Anyway, we are practicing purely for fun and educational value, and not in preparation of any performance. The real Shades will be stepping onto stage at the end of March, when the Finnish National Ballet re-introduces La Bayadère into its repertory.
You know, I just realised something weird and wonderful. I have seen this ballet previously only on TV and DVD: the staging by Natalia Makarova for Royal Ballet (with Darcey Bussell as Gamzatti), and a fairly recently discovered Nurejev's version for Paris Opera Ballet (view on youtube). The weirdly wonderful part: my first live experience of this ballet is now me dancing one of the Shades! Well, practicing, pretend-play-dancing, whatever. But we were in the actual National Opera's main ballet studio and there were professional ballerinas present. For me, this is as close as it will get to the real thing, ever.
And it was lovely. The music, the steps, the many arabesques - I must be in better shape than I had thought, because one day later, no muscle aches! The beautiful port de bras, the meditative quality of repeating the same steps, over and over. It was far, far from perfect, there were wobbly bits and less-than-straight knees and near-collisions with fellow dancers, but it was a beautiful experience nonetheless. After my past and recent shy encounters with Bluebird, Sugar Plum, Little Swans and Paquita, stepping into the Shades feels like I'm ready to come out of the shade.