La Bayadere

Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes, photo @ Richard Termine
Tonight's La Bayadere at the Met was supposed to feature the highly anticipated show-down between Diana Vishneva and Natalia Osipova. Both are Russian ballerinas known for their, well, fierceness. But Vishneva cancelled, and instead the performance featured Veronika Part (also Mariinsky-trained) as Nikya. The end result was a wonderful performance of this ballet not just from the principals, but from the entire company. Even the orchestra sounded decent tonight.

La Bayadere seems to be a ballet that the Russians just have in their blood. Two famous Soviet defectors, Rudolf Nureyev and Natalia Makarova, introduced this ballet to the Western audiences. It is Makarova's version of La Bayadere that the ABT dances. Tamara Karsavina in her memoirs called it the "holy ballet," Alexandra Danilova recalled being the first Shade to walk down the ramp in the famous Kingdom of the Shades. Even when they left Russia forever, they brought La Bayadere with them.

Part and Gomes, photo@ Gene Schiavone
Veronika Part in many ways is perfect for Nikya. Her long arms, boneless spine, and movie star looks make an impact the moment the temple dancer steps onstage and starts to dance around the fire. The Russian ballerinas really know how to exaggerate the arch of their back and legs, to the point where the line of their body is a perfect crescent moon. Part can be an uneven dancer, but tonight she was absolutely secure, if a little deliberate at times. She was the most beautiful in the Kingdom of the Shades scene -- she absolutely glowed, as if she were truly an opium-induced vision. My favorite moment is when she made her entrance as a Shade. Solor is crouched down on one knee. As Part touched Solor on the shoulder, she lifted her other arm towards the heavens, and it was magical how Gomes' entire body seemed to move towards the heavens with her. Another great moment for Part is at the end of her pas de deux with Solor, she does a series of diagonal pirouettes before snapping her arm upwards again, with a look of total triumph. In life, Nikya was always dancing below Solor -- swooning into his arms, the entire body arched underneath her lover. In the Shades scene, Nikya is the one who is now totally above Solor.

Marcelo Gomes was absolutely stunning as Solor. He's stunning in everything he dances, but he gave unusual depth to this somewhat thankless role. He was a wonderful partner to Part, and they of course looked beautiful together. One of Marcelo's great talents is his ability to appear truly in love with any woman he dances with. It's of course an illusion, but not many male danseurs can create that illusion. I once saw Leonid Sarafanov dance Solor. He was technically spectacular, but he and the Nikya he was dancing with looked like strangers.

Gamzatti, Nikya's rival in love, got some luxury casting with Natalia Osipova. Osipova is in many ways an old-school Bolshoi ballerina, and I mean this in the best sense. She can of course jump higher and turn faster than anyone out there today, but it's also her attitude that makes her such a compelling performer. She's so young, but she's a diva who demands the audience's undivided attention whenever she is onstage. She is constantly staring at the audience, her head and neck held at a deliberate, very forward angle. Edwin Denby once famously called it the "pouter pigeon" look. This just added an extra spark to tonight's performance. Gamzatti at the ABT is often indifferently cast, but ideally she should be an equal of Nikya. This is the woman Solor is engaged to, and the ballet has more coherence if the pitched battle between Nikya and Gamzatti is a fight of two attractive, stubborn women. The pas de deux between Gamzatti and Solor in the Betrothal Scene had some surprisingly shaky moments, but Osipova's coda of Italian fouettes followed by regular fouettes predictably brought the house down. Osipova marched to the footlights of the stage and took an old-school diva bow.

The Three Shade soloists (Sarah Lane, Maria Riccetto, and Yuriko Kajiya) were all in excellent form tonight, and Daniil Simkin was dynamite as the Bronze Idol. Overall, very strong performance from the company. It's fashionable to criticize the ABT corps, who never look as together as the "all sprung from the same school and training" companies like the Mariinsky, Bolshoi, Paris Opera Ballet, or the NYCB. But tonight in the famous Kingdom of the Shades entrance (in which Shade after Shade repeats the same arabesque) was very together. There was little wobbling on the exposed developpes all the Shades do after they assemble into rows. If I had a criticism it's that while the ABT corps can look very disciplined, as they did tonight, they are always also somewhat low-key. I think the quality that makes the Mariinsky corps or even the NYCB corps so great is how they demand attention, as if to say, "Watch out, principals." It's not just their uniformity, it's how that girl in the last row of the corps de ballet has a certain hunger in her eyes. The ABT corps just don't have that quality.

One last note, and sort of personal: La Bayadere was the ballet that got me hooked for life. It was one of the most unhappy periods of my life, and my friend Richard suggested that I go with him to La Bayadere. Richard was a great balletomane who had seen just about everyone -- Fonteyn and Nureyev's Romeo and Juliet, Makarova's Giselle, Gelsey Kirkland when she was a star at the NYCB. He taught me so much about ballet. He passed away about a year ago, and whenever I go to the ballet, I think of him and miss him so much. I know that somewhere, he's still watching ballet, and someday, in another world, I hope we can watch La Bayadere together again. 

I met quite a new faces tonight, people I'd only known online. It was so great meeting them, people who love ballet just as much as I do, and have such knowledge. Hi Cristian, hi Bart!


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