"La Bayadere"
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House

New York, NY
May 16, 2007 (evening)

by Lisa Rinehart
copyright © 2007 by Lisa Rinehart

Natalia Makarova's 1980 adaptation of Petipa's "La Bayadere" has everything a ballet fan could want. A convoluted plot in an exotic setting, campy characters and opium induced fantasies are background for what should be spicy performances. Paloma Herrera, David Hallberg (making his debut as Solor), and Gillian Murphy are a pallid trio, however, and no match for this over the top tale of temple dancers in Russified Royal India. Even with every technical trick tucked firmly under their collective belts, these three fail to tantalize.

Hallberg, in his debut as Solor, works hard to inhabit the role of the hot blooded warrior (the acting and mime are quite strong), but his pristine technique and almost fragile princely-ness make it a hard sell. His variations are good, if a little tentative, but he's never able to persuade us that he'll risk everything for the love of a lowly temple dancer. Rough edges are tough to acquire, but one can hope that time and confidence will give Hallberg's Solor more power.

Strength is not the problem for Murphy. She dispatches the technical demands of Gamzatti with the ease of morning calisthenics, but frustratingly, with the personality of a marshmallow. Dripping in jewels, and raised upward by two attendants like the Olympic torch, Gamzatti is a diva, and Murphy is all pouts and soft arms. There's a cat fight, no less, and if Murphy could give the role half the alacrity of her triple fouette turns, she would at least be interesting.

Temperamentally, Herrera is more of a Gamzatti. As Nikiya, she's far too absorbed in the beautiful curve of her own back to convince us of humble social status. Annoyingly unmusical, Herrera moves from graceful line to graceful line, but a tragic heroine she's not. In the first act, her Nikiya exudes more confidence than fear as she meets secretly with Solor, and while dancing with the gift basket of flowers from her rival, Gamzatti, Herrera plunks down into a C-shaped semi split like she's waiting for the flashbulbs to go off — three times, exactly the same. In the Kingdom of the Shades, Herrera seems unaware that she's Solor's passionate hallucination, and not a ghost. She stiffens her upper body and thrusts her head forward in an attempt to look spirit-like, but this isn't Giselle. It may be too late, but someone needs to help her (or force her) to think more about who these characters are and why someone bothered to create a ballet around certain archetypes.

One advantage of lackluster leads, however, is that one notices how well this glossy chestnut of a ballet is holding up. The fire jumping Fakirs are fun, the corps de ballet is precise without being bland in the Kingdom of the Shades, and even the destruction of the world in the third act is satisfyingly baroque. Arron Scott brings a bionic crispness to his Bronze Idol, and Victor Barbee fills the Met with an operatic interpretation of the High Brahmin — this is one role where more is more. "La Bayadere" is a sumptuous vehicle for dancers with strong personalities, but it doesn't crumble when the leads are less than stellar.

Photo: Paloma Herrera and David Hallberg in La Bayadère. Photo: MIRA.

Volume 5, No. 21
May 14, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Lisa Rinehart

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