Last night I visited Rock Bottom briefly. I’d had a quick look-in at the place on Tuesday, when I spilled a mug of cup-a-soup on my desk, all over a lot of papers including all my original notes for something, and found that mopping up is most definitely a two-handed job. I swore and then started to cry with frustration. Not a good moment. Yesterday’s was a slightly longer visit. In its way, it was educational; I managed to get out of it quickly, with assistance from the fridge and the secret stores in the bottom of my wardrobe, and one of the more bizarre jewels of my dvd collection.
I’d done a day at work as usual, made my way home, had a cup of tea, and at 7 o’clock I went down to the kitchen to put together some supper. Only to find that a) my half-used packet of gnocchi were growing pale grey fuzz, and b) I couldn’t open my new jar of tomato sauce, and none of my flatmates were in to help me with it. Which left me with an evening meal of Brussels sprouts.
Now apart from anything else, there wasn’t very much of it, as I had no other easily-cooked carbs to hand (note to self – get another packet of couscous). I looked at this sorry plateful, and I suddenly felt my life was dust and ashes. I ate it, of course, but it was a meagre and boring meal. I like my greens – but not served completely on their own. Then I ate three-quarters of a tub of this (it could have been worse, it could have been this), and had a bottle of this, and finally two packets of these.
The moral of this is that feeling blue leads to comfort eating. One of those terribly obvious things that one always thinks other people do, but never me. Ha.
So I gave up on my plan to watch my new dvd of “Le jour se lève” as I knew I’d simply end up crying over it, and I dug out a ballet instead. I’ve watched all my “happy” ballet dvds in the last few weeks, so now I’m starting on the “sad” ones; beginning with the one which has the distinction of the highest body-count of any, namely “La Bayadère”. This also comes close to three other ballet records, for my money; Cruddiest hero (2nd place after the louse Albrecht in “Giselle”); silliest plot (2nd place after the completely dotty “Le Corsaire”); and loveliest White Act (2nd place after “Swan Lake”).
Spoiler alert, as the phrase goes; this is why the plot is so silly, the hero such a jerk, and Act Two so ravishing.
La Bayadère, Act One.
Long, long ago and far away in Ancient India (~ish), there lives a warrior called Solor. He is in love with, and is loved by, the beautiful bayadère, or temple dancer, Nikiya. The High Brahmin is also in love with Nikiya, and is tormented by jealousy (know the feeling). If he knew what a creep Solor is, he’d feel even worse about it; because, believe me, Solor is a creep.
The Rajah decides that Solor is the man for his daughter Gamzatti. Solor does very briefly think about saying “No”, but then he sets eyes on Gamzatti.
Solor (mime); “My God, she’s hot”.
Solor now accepts his fate, pretty much unhesitatingly. Gamzatti thinks he’s jolly peachy, too; but then she learns about Nikiya. She sends for her rival and a dramatic mime scene ensues:
Gamzatti (mime);You’re good-looking. B*gger.
Nikiya (mime); I don’t understand.
Gamzatti (mime); See this portrait – the cute guy? He’s marrying me.
Nikiya (mime); No! – it can’t be true!
Gamzatti (mime); Meh – is too.
Nikiya (mime, very agitated); I’m telling you – over the sacred fire – he swore – eternal love – to me!
Gamzatti (mime); Look at this palace – all mine. Look at yourself – mere temple dancer. Go figure. Have some nice gold jewellery to make up for your broken heart.
Nikiya (mime); He’s mine, I tell you! I’m in despair!
Gamzatti (mime); Take the jewellery, be sensible now.
Nikiya (mime); Never! I’ve got a knife – I’ll kill you first!
Gamzatti (mime); HELP!
Nikiya (mime); Oh my god, I just threatened the heir to the throne, oh what will become of me?
Exit Nikiya in anguish.
Gamzatti (mime); The bitch is going to die.
Now that’s what I call mime.
Solor and Gamzatti’s engagement is announced and is celebrated in a grand feast. Cue celebratory dances assorted. Nikiya is brought to dance for the guests, and Solor has the grace to look miserable and embarrassed, but he is far too scared of the Rajah, and far too hot for Gamzatti, to do the decent thing. Nikiya is given flowers, among which Gamzatti has hidden a snake; it bites her, and she feels the pangs of approaching death. The High Brahmin, who feels terrible about all this because it was he who betrayed the secret of her love for Solor, rushes to her side and braves the Rajah’s wrath by offering her a snakebite antidote. But looking round, Nikiya sees her beloved leaving with his fiancée, and in despair she drops the bottle and dies.
Solor, too late, is tormented by guilt. He smokes opium and hallucinates an entire White Act; the famous Kingdom of the Shades.
In a moonlit glade, high in the shining Himalayas, a seemingly endless line of ghostly Nikiyas, all clad in white, are discovered dancing. They process across the stage, executing hundreds of slow arabesques penchées in unison; floating, unreal, hauntingly sad. Their cool stateliness and grace echo the tragic resignation of Nikiya’s broken heart, and her eternal beauty, dancing now forever for the gods she once served. The silent, magical figures fill the stage, and you watch with your jaw dropping as the line goes on and on. I think the dancer at the head of the line must do well over a hundred arabesques before she reaches the front of the stage. It is so simple; and it is breathtakingly beautiful.
Solor, in his dream, dances with Nikiya one last time in a series of exquisite adagios (& the odd show-off solo). Waking, he feels even worse. Hard drugs are not the answer, folks.
Solor and Gamzatti’s marriage is being celebrated. Cue more celebratory dances assorted. Gamzatti feels bad about having murdered her rival. Solor feels bad about marrying for sex, wealth and status (& because he is terrified of the Father of the Bride) rather than for love. The High Brahmin, officiating, feels life is no longer worth living. The gods, angered at the betrayal of their faithful servant Nikiya, cause lightning to strike the temple and destroy it, killing everyone inside. In an apotheosis, the souls of Nikiya and Solor are reunited, joined forever by the long silk scarf of love (& no, I don’t know what that is all about, either).
It’s quite an old recording; the Royal Ballet production when it was new, in 1991. Altynai Asylmuratova, she of the largest eyes in the business, dances Nikiya; Irek Mukhamedov, looking impossibly noble to play a character so weak and faithless, dances Solor; the young Darcey Bussell is a deliciously spoilt and sexy Gamzatti. Among the minor roles you will spot Deborah Bull, Nicola Tranah, Benazir Hussain, Viviana Durante, and Cristopher Saunders. So the dancing is high-calibre stuff. Yes, the plot is idiotic; yes, the notion that Solor could be called a hero requires a hefty stretch of the imagination. But it was lovely, even so, it and soothed my frazzled nerves (and rumbling tummy) perfectly.
Long live the magic of ballet.