October 15, 17, and 19, 2003
-- Kodak Theater, Hollywood, CA
The grand Kirov Ballet brought that old Mariinsky warhorse, "La Bayadere,"
to a well heeled crowd at the Kodak. Is it possible for southern California
to have become jaded by the veritable parade of "Bayaderes" these past
years -- Paris Opera Ballet, the Bolshoi, and Universal Ballet? Judging
from this production, I doubt it.
The design credited to Adelph Knapp, Konstantin Ivanov, Pyotr Lambin and
Orest Allegri are tasteful and evocative -- in everyway a great improvement
over the virtually proletarian sets the Bolshoi sported last year though
not anywhere in the same class as the Frigerio sets of the Paris Opera
Ballet. Likewise, the costumes by Ponomarev looked appropriately expensive.
I'll paraphrase a critic (don't recall which) who had said of opera --
"opera is about a soprano and tenor who wish to make love but are prevented
by a mezzo and a baritone." This little formula which has served well
the world of Verdi, Puccini, and Teatro La Scala speaks at times to ballet
as well: "La Bayadere" is about a principal ballerina and a danseur noble
who wish to make love but are prevented by a soloist and a character dancer.
In this ballet, the soloist,
Gamzatti, and the character dancer – or, strictly speaking, dancers –
High Brahmin and Rajah, pose formidable obstacles. Deliberately, the romantic
and moral structure of the ballet places the characters of pure dance
- Nikiya and Solor - against the characters of narrative - High Brahmin
and Rajah (more about the soloist in just a few lines). It's as if the
ballet would like to show that dancing is the only virtue in a world otherwise
dominated by verbal language: an opposition between the beauty and passion
of Nikiya and Solor's Act I pas de deux and the (mimed) death threats
which become so often repeated as to court parody (Brahmin: 'I'll destroy
Solor"; Rajah: "I'll destroy Nikiya"; Gamzatti: "I'll
destroy Nikiya" and so forth).
Dancing -- or lack of it -- constitutes the severe trial of Act I: precious
little can withstand such a narrative burden. The mind quickly begins
to wander: the illicit love of holy men for their acolytes, the pomp and
circumstance of religion, the revolutionary threat to the state's welfare
of such love -- soon one begins to pray for ambitious re-stagings. Could
Act I be re-staged in the wake of scandals of Church pederasty -- priests
for Brahmins, youths for bayaderes, cardinals for condoning Rajahs? Perhaps
a job for Matthew Bourne and Adventures in Moving Pictures. Enough said
The dancing in the betrothal divertissement of Act II rescues us from
such reflections. The promenade of foot soldiers, priest novitiates, dancers
with parrots, dancers with fans, the Rajah on a VW Bug sized palanquin,
Solor (Leonid Sarafanov (10/17, 10/19) looking like a Gen-X demi-god)
on a SUV-sized elephant, etc., is in every way an improvement on last
year's Bolshoi Ballet bargain basement parade of pedestrians. The Golden
Idol, danced by Ruben Bobovnikov (10/15, 10/19) and Andrey Ivanov (10/17),
seemed to grow over the course of the run -- perhaps because his dance
was set off by little black face munchkins (child dancers) on Friday and
Sunday rather than the corps fan dancers who pinch-hitted on opening night.
As enjoyable was Tatiana Tkachenko (10/15) and Elvira Tarasova (10/17)
as Gamzatti, compared to a wondrous Irina Golub (10/19) they seemed to
lack that necessary little hissy charisma: Gamzatti should be the Bad
Girl we love to hate, not the Bad Girl we love to ignore. Golub's Spoiled
Rich Girl with her sultry, pouty lips and solid technique made the dramatically
necessary counterweight to Diana Vishneva's tough cookie Nikiya. Arlene
Croce, I think, suggested an interpretation where the Nikiya and Gamzatti
roles recapitulated the familiar dualities of ballerina iconography --
repeated down the ages: Taglioni/Elssler, the "Christian" dancer/ the
"Pagan" dancer, Gelsey Kirkland/Suzanne Farrell, adagio/allegro, Paloma
Herrera/Amanda McKerrow -- fill in your own, please.
Friday evening's (10/17) Act II "grand pas classique" was a marvel of
the melding of upper crust romance and imperial prerogative -- the romantic
union as state spectacle. But when (like Odile) Elvira Tarasova's (10/17)
obedient Gamzatti seduces the hapless Solor with her fouettes, you see
that's it's much more evil than just mere 'state spectacle' -- it's state
conspiracy. In this way, the ballet refers to an entire symbology of state
vixens: Princess Caroline, former gubernatorial Girlfriend, Linda Ronstadt,
Sydney Bristow of "Alias," and an entire gallery of Bond girls. In any
case, Tarasova's dancing was fairly spectacular -- her fouettes featured
single turns and double turns accomplished with aplomb.
Among the character roles were many treats. As the carnally fallen holy
man, Vladimir Ponomarev's High Brahmin was icky to the proper degree.
Pyotr Stasiunas's Rajah definitely had down pat the whole yakuza/tong
Kingpin character. Manu the Pitcher Girl was danced with great charm by
Elena Yushkovskaya with 2 children -- bayaderettes, I suppose (unnamed
as far as I can tell from the program). Drum Dance still puzzles me. No
doubt it will remain a kind of critical quandary like the fate of the
Fool in "King Lear" or the residual significance of the line, "Exit, chased
by a bear" from "The Winter's Tale."
Despite certain varying fortunes in Act I and Act II, the final act was
consistently spectacular. It requires a corps of superlative caliber to
pull off that dreamlike/trancelike effect of an infinity of spirits emerging
from Hadean recesses. Congratulations are due the company for using the
slower tempo to accentuate the adagio effect. My only complaint is the
bayadere's anachronistic circa 1940s hair do's -- shouldn't the Kingdom
of the Shades be populated with an infinity of Nikiya's and not Mrs. Cleaver's?
As with all ballet blancs reaching back to the "Dance of the Fallen Nuns"
from Meyerbeer's "Robert l'Diable," the Act III "Kingdom of the Shades"
revealed the dans d'Ecole in all its purity: bayaderes were in pristine,
virginal white tutus. Magnificent.
The Solors of the performances reported here were Igor Zelensky (10/15)
and Leonid Sarafanov (10/17 and 10/19). Or so that was how they were listed
in the program. The Kirov men seem to need more partnering practice. Once
or twice I was worried by the place in the Act I pas de deux where Solor
lifts Nikiya from his right arm to his left. Perhaps the varied fortunes
in the partnering department explain the consistently excellent male solo
variations, especially in the Act III.
It was really only on Sunday's (10/19) performance when Vishneva's Nikiya
was properly set off by Golub's princessy Gamzatti, that Nikiya really
did shine in Act III. On Friday (10/17), Irma Nioradze as Nikiya conquered
space and time. The veil or scarf dance was tender and nostalgic as it
should be. Vishneva strove for an impressively controlled passion throughout.
The Three Shades (variously Irina Golub, Irina Zhelonkina, Tatiana Amosova,
Ekaterina Osmolkina) revealed the pleasures of virtuosity -- something
of a chore given the clunkiness of Minkus' less than inspiring beergarten
melodies. Mikhail Sinkevich conducted.
It has already been discussed elsewhere the reasons why the Kirov Ballet
did not bring their new production (complete with a full Act IV). During
this production, though I was at times enthralled, listless, bored, magnetized,
I was never disappointed. If and when the new production gets toured to
southern California, I will be there.
Edited by Catherine Pawlick.
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