American Ballet Theatre - 'La Bayadere'
by Lori Ibay
May 15, 2004 matinee -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York City
There was excitement in the theater even before the curtain rose for American Ballet Theatre’s Saturday afternoon performance of Makarova’s production of Petipa’s classic ballet, “La Bayadere.” My sister, seeing her first “Bayadere,” skimmed through the synopsis just minutes before the lights dimmed, and -- like many others doing the same -- she exclaimed quietly to herself as she absorbed the plot. With a young warrior (Solor) and a beautiful temple dancer (the Bayadere, Nikiya) swearing their eternal love over a sacred fire just before the Radjah rewards Solor with the hand of his beautiful daughter (Gamzatti) in marriage, the stage is set for love, tragedy, passion, and high drama. Add in a jealous High Brahmin, a poisonous snake, the refusal of a life-saving antidote, visions of a dead lover, and the wrath of the gods -- and anticipation was high for spectacular performances from ABT’s stars.
As Nikiya, the sincere and ever-loyal heroine, Ashley Tuttle danced gracefully with simple charm and elegant, flowing lines. Whether rejecting the High Brahmin’s advances, refusing Gamzatti’s bribes, or dancing woefully at the celebration of Gamzatti and Solor’s betrothal, Tuttle performed ardently, conveying the purity of her character. In a glittering red costume that contrasted with the peaches and blues worn by the celebrants at the end of Act I, Tuttle emanated melancholy -- reaching out to Solor in extended arabesques -- as she danced for her lover and his bride to be, then passionately chose to die rather than see Solor wed Gamzatti. Returning in the Kingdom of the Shades (opposite Angel Corella as Solor) Tuttle was technically superb, with powerful leaps and quick pirouettes. The pair’s partnering was effortless and polished -- strong lifts, smooth transitions, and perfect balance were complemented by the pair’s unforced chemistry.
Although Solor troubles me -- after all, it is his weakness to refuse the wishes of the Radjah (and the overwhelming beauty of Gamzatti) that leads to the death of his true love -- Corella portrays Solor in a way that somehow makes him easier to forgive. Corella expresses his emotions as easily as he executes his mile-high leaps and lightning-quick pirouettes: he is visibly torn when the Radjah presents Gamzatti to him just after he swore his eternal love to Nikiya, while simultaneously mesmerized by Gamzatti’s beauty. When he kisses Gamzatti’s hand as Nikiya dances before them, he acts as if he is under a spell -- which is instantly broken when Nikiya dies at the bite of a poisonous snake that Gamzatti has hidden in a basket of flowers for Nikiya. Like Tuttle, Corella’s technical abilities are put on display in the Kingdom of the Shades -- his never-ending runs of fouettes, pirouettes, and double tours deliver the fireworks that the audience anticipated.
Gillian Murphy, replacing an injured Stella Abrera, was a regal and elegant Gamzatti. Murphy adeptly transformed her character, showing tenderness and grace opposite Solor, haughtiness in bribing Nikiya and plotting her death, and unsettling panic in the final scene when Solor sees visions of Nikiya that are imperceptible to Gamzatti and the others. Ethan Brown was a majestic Radjah, and Guillaume Graffin was a zealous and menacing High Brahmin, vowing vengeance for his rejection.
The role of Magdaveya the Head Fakir, played by Sascha Radetsky, has some key moments in the plot -- he is the first to pray over the sacred fire into which Nikiya and Solor swear their love, he provides the antidote that could have saved Nikiya’s life, he offers Solor the opium that brings him to the Kingdom of the Shades. In the first act, Radetsky teased the audience by muscling a sequence of power jumps, but afterwards didn’t have much opportunity to dance, creeping in and out of scenes, and not much more. In the final scene, Gennadi Saveliev was a wonderfully acrobatic Bronze Idol who dances in the Temple where Solor and Gamzatti are to wed.
The corps de ballet added lively action in the opening scenes as the temple dancers, fakirs, warriors, and celebrants, but Act II’s Kingdom of the Shades showcased the true splendor of the women’s corps. In the classic single-file entrance, with the simple repeated sequence -- arabesque, cambre port de bras -- the uniformity of movement was like watching a glittering white fog slowly roll in and settle on the stage (although the repetitiveness of the single-file line also reminded me of counting sheep in white tutus) as Solor’s dream began. Their beautiful simplicity and meticulous unison was breathtaking and brought the audience into a different kingdom, an imaginary world. As the three main Shades, Anna Liceica and Carmen Corella danced dainty, bouncing allegro solos and Veronika Part danced a graceful, strong adagio.
As the walls of the temple came tumbling down in the final scene, my sister's enthusiastic applause, along with the rest of the audience's, was in appreciation of the exciting performances that were just as thrilling as the ballet's plot. The orchestra played music by Ludwig Minkus arranged by John Lanchberry and was conducted by David LaMarche. Grand sets were designed by Pierluigi Samaritani, and stunning costumes were by Theoni V. Aldredge.
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