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Ananiashvili: Dancing Like a Dream in ABT's La Bayadère

La Bayadère
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, NY
May 14, 2004

by Gay Morris
copyright © 2004 by Gay Morris
published 17 May 2004

Considering that American Ballet Theatre premiered Natalia Makarova’s full-length production of La Bayadère nearly a quarter-century ago, it still looks surprisingly fresh today. Or perhaps it was just the superb performances by the cast of central characters at Thursday’s performance that made it seem newborn. Nina Ananiashvili could find few roles that suit her better than Nikiya. The temple dancer’s sinuous movement in the first act give Ananiashvili the opportunity to use her sensitive arms and back in a way that can only be matched by the second act choreography of Swan Lake, while the Kingdom of the Shades allows her to show her prowess in a purely classical style. The character of Nikiya itself, with its underlying sense of vulnerability and self-sacrifice, also suits her romantically rounded face and body, and the plush feel of her dancing. In addition, Ananiashvili performed like a dream on Thursday, with great musicality and a sureness and consistency in everything she did. She appears to have inspired her partner, Julio Bocca, in the role of Solor. I confess that I often find Bocca a dancer more interested in star turns than in seriously attacking a role. But here he devoted himself to the part with an unusual degree of self-effacement, which opened the possibility of a real connection with Ananiashvili. And connect they did. Their dancing together had an ease and understanding that was remarkable. They also were in accord psychologically, radiating a concern for each other that is rarely seen in ballet these days. Bocca’s technique, which can sometimes seem a little hard, also looked easy and free. And he only exaggerated once, at the end of a solo in which he almost touched his head to the stage in a backbend.

Gillian Murphy, who has been handed a passel of leading roles since she was made a principal two years ago, appeared as Gamzatti. This is the woman engaged to be married to Solor who is responsible for Nikiya’s death. The part suits her as well as Nikiya does Ananiashvili. Her glittering technique emphasizes the difference in dancing styles and by extension the characters of Nikiya and Gamzatti. That is necessary in order for Nikiya, in the Kingdom of the Shades, to remain different from Gamzatti while still executing strict classical movement. Murphy can do just about anything technically, and she outdid herself on Thursday, with multiple unsupported pirouettes that seemed to go on forever. But she also brought some depth to her role, not only demonstrating the character’s malice, but also revealing her genuine love for Solor and her anguish at his rejection of her.

As for the other major roles, Herman Cornejo was astonishing in the Bronze Idol solo. His dancing was so perfectly clear that he seemed to halt in the air in the unusual positions demanded, then landed soundlessly as if his body had the hollow bones of a bird. The Kingdom of the Shades soloists, Renata Pavam, Erica Cornejo and Michele Wiles, were all excellent, particularly Pavam, who is still in the corps. Gennadi Saveliev as the Head Fakir leaped with abandon, as the role requires. Victor Barbee was fine as the High Brahmin, as was Ethan Brown as the Radjah. The one major disappointment was the corps de ballet in the Kingdom of the Shades. Gone are the days when twenty-four girls moved as one living, breathing whole. There simply is no comparison to what the St. Petersburg Maryinsky Ballet offers in this most demanding of classical corps sequences. To attain the kind of unity that is needed takes a level of time, discipline, and technical consistency that probably no American company can produce today. But for those of us who remember the early years of ABT’s La Bayadère, we know it was possible once upon a time. Nevertheless, I for one am grateful for an evening in which the central dancers gave the audience a performance that did recall the glories of ABT’s past.

Photo: Nina Ananiashvili in La Bayadère. Photo: Nancy Ellison.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 18
May 17, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Gay Morris



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