Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY
June 6 (m), 2015
Marius Petipa’s La Bayadère has been danced in Russia since 1877. We in the West, however, had to wait until the second half of the 20th century to see this balletic jewel. That it arrived was thanks to two Kirov Ballet defectors: Rudolph Nureyev and Natalia Makarova, and it is Makarova’s version that has been in American Ballet Theatre’s repertoire since 1980. She streamlined much of the Petipa version while keeping the male solos from the Soviet era, and, most importantly, reinserted a final act, the original Act IV having been discarded by the Soviets in the late 1920s. All in all, it is an incredible spectacle.
La Bayadère is set in the royal India of the past – but an India as imagined by a Frenchman (Petipa) living in St. Petersburg in the nineteenth century. I have delighted in the sumptuous wonder of Makarova’s production more than twenty times and have fallen under the spell of many different Nikiyas, Solors and Gamzattis as they danced their story of treachery and true love finally triumphing over everything. Even so, Saturday’s matinee was one of the finest performances I have ever seen.
The whole company was marvelous, but some dancers really stood out. As Nikiya, Hee Seo was a young, innocent temple dancer totally in love with the warrior Solor. She did not understand power politics and could not fathom the evil of Gamzatti, the princess who was her rival for Solor’s love. Seo’s dancing was beautifully expressive. Her supple upper body plainly showed Nikiya’s desolation when Gamzatti and Solor were betrothed, and at the end of Act II her diagonal turns were performed at a breakneck pace. I wished for a little more height in her grand jetés, though.
Mariinksy guest artist, Kimin Kim, was the best Solor I have ever seen. He performed many phenomenal leaps of incredible elevation with the plushest of landings, and his double barrel assemblé turns in Act II were absolute perfection. Everything was done with ease and effortlessness. Kim’s acting was first rate too. He clearly loved Nikiya but could not fight the power of the Rajah. That he was both fascinated and frightened of Gamzatti, who he was forced to marry was equally plain to see. Fortunately the gods are on Nikiya and Solor’s side and the lovers are reunited in the afterworld at the end of the ballet.
As wonderfully as Seo and Kim danced separately, magic occurred when they danced together. He was a magnificently attentive partner and the chemistry between them was palpable. Should Kim ever dance full time with ABT, there is surely a splendid partnership here.
Gillian Murphy’s Gamzatti was pure evil in a beautiful body. Without doubt, she was the one in control at the palace, and would do anything (including commit murder) to win Solor. As always, Murphy’s dancing was magnificent. Her side by side jumps with Solor at the beginning of the betrothal pas de deux were first rate. Her Italian fouettés were sharp and precise and her fouettés turns (she even threw in a few quadruples) were thrilling.
Thomas Forster’s High Brahmin was much improved over last year. This is a priest who was mortified by his love for Nikiya, but completely powerless to curb his passion. Alexandre Hammoudi’s Rajah was totally controlled by his daughter, Gamzatti, and lacked any trace of power or majesty. As the Head Fakir, Arron Scott was excitingly high flying.
Craig Salstein was electrifying as the Bronze Idol in the short but very difficult solo that requires speeding up and braking at a quicksilver pace. As wonderful as Salstein’s performance was, it did not erase my images of Angel Corella and Herman Cornejo in the role. One day I may see someone of their equal.
I doubt there is any more beautiful sight in classical ballet than the opening of the Act II Kingdom of the Shades when the Shades float gently one by one down the ramp in the moonlight, their legs stretched behind them in arabesque position. One or two tiny wobbles did not detract from the magic, and overall the corps’ arabesques were well-timed and in sync.