"La Bayadere"
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House

New York, NY
May 16, 2007, (matinee)

by Susan Reiter
copyright © 2007 by Susan Reiter

It may be the oldest production (27 years and counting) among the full-length ballets that make up ABT’s current Met season, but Natalia Makarova’s glistening, dramatically astute “La Bayadère” more than holds up. It has become an enduring mainstay of the repertory, and provided several generations of ABT leading dancers with challenging roles, not to mention helped lift the corps de ballet’s technical precision and classical purity. (It also rewards the corps with a rare opportunity to be appreciated, as the knowledgeable ABT audience invariably — as it did at this moderately well-attended matinee — gives the crystalline perfection of Act Two’s entrance of the Shades a resounding ovation of the sort usually offered in response to bravura solo turns.)

The well-matched pair of Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes made their debuts as Nikiya and Solor on this occasion, with Michelle Wiles offering superlative dancing as Gamzatti. Part and Gomes are both tall dancers whose limbs carve majestically through space, and while the company can has few regular partnerships these days, they have been paired with some frequency, having danced “Swan Lake” together for several seasons, and will head the first cast of the new “Sleeping Beauty.”

This was the meatiest role Part has performed with the company other than “Swan Lake.” Indeed it has seemed that her progress as a ballerina has been hindered by the infrequency of her performances. But she is being cast more prominently and regularly this spring, and it should be interesting to see how she evolves. In this debut, she was not the most vulnerable of Nikiyas, and what one felt for the character was more for her having her innocently pure love betrayed than for her helpless lot as a lowly temple dancer. With her elegant bearing, eloquent and expressive use of her back and downcast expression, she was moving and wonderfully yielding in the opening scene. Tremulous and trusting, this Nikiya clearly saw her love for Solor as her reason for existing. Her phrasing was initially cautious, but her duet with Gomes — a stalwart, impassioned and innately noble Solor — unfolded vividly. They shaped it to express their increasingly fervent emotions, culminating in Part’s effortless, seemingly spontaneous leap onto his shoulder.

In her confrontation with Wiles, Part was more sorrowful than confrontational. Clearly, this Nikiya found herself in a completely unfamiliar world, full of gloss and ostentatious displays of power and wealth, and had no means to compete. She pushed aside Gamzatti’s offer of jewels as though unaware of what they were. Her horror at her own ability to brandish a knife and attack was powerfully expressed. The world of the temple was clearly all she knew, and now her venture into affairs of the heart had led her to this alien milieu and drawn out frightening, unknown aspects of herself. When she danced at the betrothal festivities, Part made her solo exquisitely lush, reaching through space with gorgeous extension and liquidity.

In the Kingdom of the Shades act, Part had many beautiful moments, but an overlay of caution and slight tension prevented this from being as complete a performance as she surely has in her. In the solo with the scarf, her beautifully arched back and the expansiveness of her movement were lovely, but one missed a bit more openness and abandon. Gomes, here and throughout, was an earnestly supportive partner and protective presence. In terms of his acting, he conveyed the doubts and regrets of his character nobly and clearly, without any over-emphasis. His solo in the betrothal scene did not have the high-flying ferocity that some have delivered, but the fullness of his phrasing and the elegant way he shaped the material were notable.

Wiles went from strength to strength. Dramatically, she is not the most intriguing Gamzatti, particularly as she tended to smile much of the time. But her dancing spoke eloquently, revealing a woman of command and assurance. Her powerful diagonal of turns in the betrothal scene, perfectly shaped to the music, told us much about this Gamzatti, and she delivered an exceptional solo in the final act. As her perfectly centered pirouettes unfurled, one felt the menace and pride of this woman, almost daring Solor to defy her.

Among the secondary roles, Carlos Lopez whirled through the Bronze Idol solo with fierce precision and fell just one degree short of the nearly inhuman degree of perfection that the role's greatest interpreters have achieved. Roman Zhurbin was a fierce, almost demonic High Brahmin, while Vitali Krauchenka was an appropriately haughty, self-involved Radjah, eager to use his daughter’s marriage for his own interests. As the soloists in the Shades scene, Misty Copeland was strong but too prosaic; Adrienne Schulte (making a debut) used her long legs to bracing effect, but her impact was lessened by some choppy phrasing; and Hee Seo brought true poetry and delicacy to her variation, and her musical responsiveness was a delight to behold.

The production really does not show its age. The sets are elegant yet understated, featuring glorious attention to color and detail, and the lighting is subtle and gorgeous, full of chiaroscuro effects. Some of the costumes appear to have been refurbished, with more jewel-like sparkle on some of them than one recalls; Nikiya’s white harem pants in the final scene look like they would glow in the dark. But given the potential for excess in this tale of exotic, long-ago romance, jealousy, rivalry, vengeance and destruction, Makarova’s production is a model of dramatic astuteness that continues to leave viewers with a fulfilling impact as luminous as the final lighting effect that united the lovers in enduring transcendence.

The photo on the front page is of Paloma Herrera and David Hallberg in La Bayadère. Photo: MIRA.

Volume 5, No. 21
May 14, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Susan Reiter

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