Skip to main
West Australian Ballet logo

La Bayadère (The Temple Dancer) synopsis


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.

Act One

SCENE ONE: The Jungle on the outskirts of Cooch Behar

While Prince Solor is training a garrison of soldiers, an envoy from the Maharajah requests his return to the palace immediately; he agrees, as on the way, he will stop at the Temple of the Golden Idol, where his beloved Nikiya is a bayadère (temple dancer).

SCENE TWO: The Temple of The Golden Idol

The Governor-General and his entourage are escorting his overindulged 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. Prince 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. Prince Solor proposes that they elope; Nikiya agrees to run away with him on the following night.

SCENE THREE: The Maharajah’s Palace

Returning to the Palace, Prince 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 agrees, knowing he will instead elope with Nikiya.

SCENE FOUR: The Palace Ballroom

At their engagement party, Prince Solor dances with Edith, but rebuffs her affection. The Dance of the Golden Idol is performed and Nikiya, unaware she is at her beloved’s engagement party, begins to dance. Unable to resist, Prince Solor joins her dance and they kiss exposing their love for each other, causing outrage and mayhem. In the chaos, Edith sees her chance to avenge Solor’s insult to her; stealing a soldiers dagger, she murders her love rival. Nikiya dies in Prince Solor’s arms.

~ Intermission ~

Act 2

SCENE ONE: An Opium Den in the Himalayan Foothills

Heartbroken, Prince 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.

SCENE TWO: The Kingdom of the Shades

Under a cloudy opium haze, Nikiya’s shade (spirit) appears to Prince Solor among the star-lit peaks of the Himalayas. The Shades (bayadères who died for love) descend from the mountains and the lovers meet, before fading and Solor wakes from his dream. After some days, the Maharajah’s envoy discovers Prince Solor and he is escorted back to the palace.

~ Intermission ~

Act 3

SCENE ONE: The Great Hall, Government House, Calcutta

Prince Solor is forced to proceed with his marriage while still under the influence of opium and grieving for Nikiya. At the wedding reception, the newly married couple dance. Edith, enjoying all eyes upon her, is oblivious to Prince Solor’s distant, dazed mood. He mistakes a wine servant for Nikiya and swiftly drinks the first of many glasses. Feeling the effects of the wine, he collapses into the table holding the wedding cake. Edith is mortified, and the Maharajah is appalled by his son’s behaviour.

SCENE TWO: Prince Solor and Edith’s Room

Confused and intoxicated, Prince Solor fears he may be losing his mind and is taken to his room. He imagines Nikiya in his arms again and collapses on the bed. Edith decides to put her anger aside and seduce him. When Prince Solor rejects her advances, she is incensed and reveals 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 to his death.


Nikiya and Solor’s spirits enter The Kingdom of the Shades where, at last, they are reunited in eternal love.