Optimal Viewing Experience– ‘ABT”s La Bayadere
The first time I can remember seeing the ballet, ‘La Bayadere’ I was sitting on a dirty couch in the boys dorm at Interlochen Arts Academy. It was probably snowing outside and a few friends of mine (Jonathan and Gavin) had formed the ‘ballet club’ which consisted of us three dopey dance majors watching ballet on VHS after a regular six-hour dance day.I know, I was really cool. The day we watched La Bayadere was my first introduction to the incredible Darcy Bussell dancing the role of Gamzatti int he Royal Ballet’s production. She had amazing long legs, a bedazzled two piece red costume, and played the venomous princess. Despite the ragged dorm room conditions, watching her dance was such a memorable treat.
Flash forward about four years to when I was studying one summer in Russia and was able to see the full production from the dead-center of the balcony at the Marinksy Theatre with Uliana Lopatkina dancing the other female lead role, Nikiya. Also, my friends and I had champagne in hand- because that’s allowed in the Russian theatre apparently. It was undeniably one of the greatest and most special nights of my dance-loving life.
My most recent viewing took place on Thursday, May 29th 2014 at the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center, New York City. I sat in the box seat with a perfect view of every feat of technical brilliance, every sultry costume, each pyro-technic flash, and an uniterrupted view of the corps. One of the best aspects of La Bayadere is the story. Each element of the ballet provides an opportunity to be dramatic and over-the-top. On most counts, ABT did not disappoint. The costumes from Thenoi V. Aldrege were colorful and showcased these beautiful dancers, the live orchestration of the classic Minkus score was as diverse as each character should have been.However, without a commanding lead to live up to the artistic demands of the role, the story itself inspires doubt.
Don’t want to read my review? Read James Franco’s critique
The two guests in the lead couple roles of Nikia and Solor- Viktoria Tereshkina and Vladimir Shklyarov (the latter being from the Marinksy)- were stunning. The act 2 pas de deux is one of the most beautiful and challenging things known to ballet and it was perfect. The three-times arabesque turns under the scarf on both sides seemed to just float and the incredibly hard fouette from attitude devant to arabesque were seamless in execution, soft in landing. I did find it funny that the two seemed to have opposite ‘better sides’ on grand jete. Occasionally they would do one together with the left leg front and I would notice that his back leg was higher but then it was the opposite on with the right leg. These two were the perfect blend of technical and passionate.
The ABT dancers in various roles and especially the corps were also praise-worthy. There were a few tiny wobbles in the developpe a la second in the opening of act two once the entire corps has entered but no one dared drop the leg. The second dancer in line was consistently late in lifting the leg from tendu to the arabesque in the opening sequence, and therefore seemed always behind in coming down from the arabesque. However, they were overall incredibly lovely and picture perfect during the second act.
Each of the three variations was danced soundly, though the music was almost unbearably slow for the second soloist. Hard to tell if that’s because the orchestra simply played slower that day or because she was having trouble holding the balances. She did indeed hold each balance, but it seemed almost stop and start- as if you could see her reach the bottom of her plie and then jolt into the next releve rather than a continuous flow of movement. Act three featured some nice group work from the Candle Dancers but the real star was the Bronze Idol, danced musically and with absolute control by Zhiyao Zhang. His contrast between vigorous jumps and turns with staccato posed moments lended well to the character and showcased technique and artistry.
Where the cast left a little to be desired was in soloist-ranked Isabella Boylston as Gamzatti. it’s true that I hold this role in high esteem and expect the likes of Darcy from ABT. However, she just seemed wrong for the role. An incredible dancer, yes, but more of an Aurora or a Giselle. It’s odd to see someone of this rank in a role like Gamzatti and perhaps this contributed to nerves. While her dancing was competent, and nice, Gamzatti is not competent and nice. I admit that I expected more than a single attitude turn in the travelling upstage diagonal in the Act 1 variation.. There was a lack of power, of threatening presence, that either is not in her or was not in her on that night. All of the technique into the world doesn’t translate to body language. A little more tension, suspension, even wild movement would have lent better to the character, story, and audiences enjoyment.
Overall, an absolutely wonderful production and evening with only one ingredient that perhaps would be better placed elsewhere. It is hard to be swept away from whatever your seating situation when a kingpin of the plot isn’t convincing as part of the fantasy. Leave Gamzatti to the power-hungry, fiery, jealous Darcy’s of the dance wolrd- or at least those able to communicate those qualities through the choreography.
Favorite highlights of the show: the Golden Idol variation, every Solor landing in that famous kneeling pose, the corps work in Kingdom of the Shades, the Act 2 Pas, and the curtain call for the two lead guest artists where fans were so enthusiastically throwing bouquets of flowers at them, the clusters of roses occasionally fell apart and showered the stars in the face.