Bolshoi Ballet

"La Bayadère"

Orange County Performing Arts Center
Costa Mesa, CA

November 29, 2002
By Basheva

Is bigger better? If the name is Bolshoi, for this performance, on this date, the answer is "yes, it can be." Only a first class company can field a first-class La Bayadère. Because the corps de ballet is the heart of this work, it takes their fully synchronized combined heartbeats to realize the concept of Petipa's exquisite choreography. It also needs a history of mutually agreed style, concept and schooling to attain the perfection necessary to accomplish the Kingdom of the Shades. That, plus two ballerinas of the first rank, one commanding danseur, a fawning wild fakir and a truly golden idol. The Bolshoi produced them all.

Nikolai Tsiskaridze as Solor, quickly claimed the stage as he introduced himself in the first act with a series of completely split, soaring grande jetés, giving ballon a new meaning. It was so easily, almost casually accomplished it was close to a throw-away. But it announced his presence and one longed for more. It was an appetizer to the feast.

Galina Stepanenko's Nikiya is a sure bet. She easily goes from early love in the first act to melting sorrow in the second. She dances this sorrow before the man she loves, the people she fears, as well as the Brahmin (Alexey Barsegian) she despises. The ballerina manages to convey this complexity of tangled emotion clearly, each getting its due.

Gamzatti, danced by Maria Alexandrova, is a jewel of a Rajah's daughter. I find no fault with her dancing, it sparkled as it ought. But I would have liked a bit more of a malevolent edge delineating her imperious station in life. A truer "uncaring," an icier coating to her disdain for the despair of a mere Bayadère. I also missed a level of omniscient power in Alexey's Loparevich's Rajah. He didn't project his utter control of the people around him.

The sets (Leventhal, Firsov and Sharonov) and costumes by Sviridchik, underwhelmed. Program notes said that these were based on the original designs for the first performance of this ballet in 1877. There is something to be said for going back to the original, but missing was the opulence of a royal court. Where were the brilliant colors of India? Rich reds, topaz, greens, were negated by simple sets and duller colors.

The Golden Idol, danced by Morihiro Ivata, was worthy of burnt offerings. His physicality is perfect for the part. It should also be noted that he did the more difficult choreography of this variation by performing the attitude turns from a kneeling knee. In other variations the soloists were excellent and in the several small ensemble groupings, the dancers were remarkably "together." This, even in the most challenging enchainements. However, the length of these various offerings tended to interrupt the story for too long a time.

Is thirty-two better than twenty-four? If it is the Bolshoi, and La Bayadère, and at this performance, the answer is "yes." On a three-tiered ramp, plus stage level, with one perfect well-above-ninety-degree arabesque after another, the corps filled the stage with sublime living movement. Only a rare squeak in the apparatus of the ramp itself, reminded one that these were flesh and blood beings actually having, however slight, actual weight. The straight arrows of legs, oval-ed arms and circles of tutus proved the beauty of geometric pattern, while giving it form and substance. Thirty-two minds, bodies and hearts beat in unison. When they became still in their rows of white, they brought an audible gasp from the audience. The corps de ballet stole the show.

And then Stepaneko and Tsiskaridze stole it back. The slightly off-axis supported turns of the first act in this partnership were gone, and the two dancers became one. The ballerina brought the audience along with her as she eloquently rhapsodized over dancing once more with her love, Solor. Her joy showed in the rapid-fire fouettes, sparkling, speed blurred chaines, each time ending with a secure quiet arabesque.

Tsiskaridze is not only an artist of the large gesture; he is also an artist attentive to the small gesture. A lowered head, an arm – sometimes supportive, sometimes questing – are details easily lost in the hurly-burly of the action around him. But if one is watching him, one is rewarded with quiet treasures. He is utterly at ease on the stage; it's his home. Though he exudes this ease, almost a languor, it's all still there. His fully stretched feet are clapped together in a perfect pencil point of a fifth position in the air, his chest lifted, his soaring jumps having both altitude and amplitude beyond expectation. He doesn't lack attack, he simply doesn't announce it.

A particularly fiendishly difficult sequence of double tours en l'air, that circled the stage at full speed with perfect vertical axis, is something this reviewer has never seen before. It brought down the house. This was after clear double cabrioles, tours in second that became attitude turns, which evolved into pirouettes, rotations beyond count. Who needed to count? Any such attempt is overtaken by the beauty of the execution.

But Tsiskaridze doesn't allow it to conclude there. He stands on the steps of the shrine, his temple world tumbling to ruin around him, he slowly sinks down and then ever so slowly, even more slowly than one can imagine, he arches back, and back. An almost impossible agony of grief. Tsiskaridze kept the audience with him into the very last second as his spine curved more and more before it met the earth. One ached with him to the last moment.

Alexander Kopylov ably conducted the Minkus music with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra.


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Edited by Mary Ellen.

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