That's the end of the ballet — in this version. The original Bayadère had a fourth act. The wedding day has arrived, but Solor is distracted by visions of Nikiya, and before the knot can be tied, the gods, angry over the death of their temple dancer, flatten the temple and everyone in it — whereupon the shade of Solor emerges to join Nikiya in heaven. This conclusion disappeared from La Bayadère under the Soviets, who preferred the happier ending of the third act; in 1980, it was revived and reconstructed for American Ballet Theatre by former Mariinsky Ballet principal Natalia Makarova, who furthermore streamlined the proceedings to sharpen the focus on the plot. In 2000, the Mariinsky set out to reconstruct Petipa's own revival of 1900. That production was brought to New York in 2002 but has not been seen in Boston.
The Bayadère that Boston Ballet is giving us is not so very different from the one the company did in 2000. Clocking in at three hours (including two intermissions), it offers pageantry and color and lots of dancing. There are dances for the fakirs and the bayadères and Solor's friends and Gamzatti's friends. There's a D'Jampe Dance (with scarves), a Fan Waltz, and a Dance with Parrots, the women holding the red stuffed birds on sticks in their right hands. There's a Manu Dance for a woman with a water jug on her head; there's a duet for Nikiya and a Slave, and a dance for the Golden Idol, and a drummer-led Indian Dance whose participants look more like North American Indians. And there's the entire third act, with its pas de deux for Solor and Nikiya and its solos for the three lead shades.
But the core of La Bayadère is the trio of Gamzatti, Solor, and Nikiya. It's easy to make Gamzatti into a spoiled rich girl who wants Solor because he's strong and handsome and her father's choice but doesn't really love him. Kathleen Breen Combes frames the space around her with her shoulders and her hips, insinuating and perhaps inviting, in a way that, along with the sophistication of her technique, gives Gamzatti depth. She melts into Solor's arms when she sees he's thinking of Nikiya, and she's sensational in the Italian and traditional fouettés with which she closes her second act-solo. Newly promoted principal Lia Cirio's Nikiya is a study in innocence and vulnerability; it's an effective contrast, and Cirio uses her arms and, in the third act, luscious slow développés to create gorgeous extensions of spirituality and longing. It's too bad that, when Gamzatti and Nikiya meet in the palace, each woman doesn't get to dance out her own love for Solor; instead, this scene is mostly mime, and it degenerates into a catfight, though there's compensation in the desperation with which Breen Combes pleads and the determination with which Cirio stands firm. It's too bad, as well, that the High Brahmin (Bo Busby last night) and the Rajah (Arthur Leeth throughout the run) aren't dancing roles. Given a few daring jumps with which to display his love for Nikiya, the High Brahmin wouldn't seem such a stock figure. And the Rajah could take on some complexity. Busby and Leeth do what can be done.