The Story —
La Bayadère (The Temple Dancer)
India, 1855 - The armies of Cooch Behar and the British East India Company have been at war. The Maharajah of Cooch Behar and the Governor-General of India decide to bring an end to hostilities, with a treaty that includes the arranged marriage of the Maharajah’s son, Prince Solor to the Governor-General’s daughter, Edith.
Prince Solor is training a garrison of soldiers. An envoy from the Maharajah tells him to return to the palace immediately; Solor agrees, knowing that on the way, he will stop at the Temple of the Golden Idol, where his beloved Nikiya is a bayadère (temple dancer).
The Governor-General and his retinue are escorting his over-indulged daughter, Edith, to Cooch Behar. They stop at the Temple of the Golden Idol, where the High Brahmin greets them and summons the bayadères to bring water and entertain the visitors. Nikiya, the leading bayadère, concludes the performance. Impressed, the Governor-General offers generous payment for the temple dancers to perform at his daughter’s engagement party.
Solor's garrison arrives. He sends his troops and the envoy on, while he remains, hoping to see Nikiya. When the bayadères emerge from the temple, Nikiya lingers outside and the two lovers meet. Solor proposes that they elope; Nikiya agrees to run away with him on the following night.
Returning to the Palace, Solor is told of the arranged marriage between himself and Edith. He insists it cannot go ahead, as he is in love with Nikiya. Faced with the Maharajah’s anger, he grudgingly complies, knowing he will instead elope with Nikiya.
At their engagement party, Solor agrees to dance with Edith, but rebuffs her affection. The Dance of the Golden Idol is performed and then Nikiya, unaware she is at her beloved’s engagement party, begins to dance. Unable to resist, Solor joins her dance and they kiss. With their love exposed, there is outrage. In the mayhem, Edith sees her chance to avenge Solor’s insult to her; only her father sees her treacherous action. Solor cradles his dying love.
Heartbroken, Solor seeks solace in an opium den. The owner, sensing an opportunity to profit from a man of obvious wealth, guides him to a bed and offers a pipe of opium. Nikiya’s shade (spirit) appears to him, among the star-lit peaks of the Himalayas. The Shades (bayadères who died for love) descend from the mountains and the lovers reconcile, but their bliss ends as the Shades dissolve and Solor wakes from his dream. After some days, the Maharajah’s envoy discovers Solor and he is escorted back to the palace.
Forced to proceed with his marriage while still grieving for Nikiya and riddled with opium, Solor submits to his duty.
At the wedding reception, the newly-married couple dance. Edith, enjoying all eyes upon her, is oblivious to Solor’s distant, dazed mood. He mistakes a wine servant for Nikiya and swiftly drinks the first of many glasses. Solor begins to dance around the hall, much to the surprise and enjoyment of all. Now feeling the effects of the wine, he collapses into the table with the wedding cake. Edith is mortified, and the Maharajah is disgusted by his son’s behaviour.
Confused and intoxicated, Solor fears he may be losing his mind and is taken to his rooms. He imagines Nikiya in his arms again and collapses on the bed. Edith decides to put her anger aside and seduce him. When Solor rejects her advances, she becomes incensed and screams that Nikiya died by her hand. Solor is blinded by rage and retaliates with violence. Soldiers run into the room; Solor is shot and, staggering backwards, falls through a window.
Nikiya and Solor’s spirits enter the Kingdom of the Shades where, at last, they are reunited in eternal love.