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American Ballet Theatre

'La Bayadère'

by Kate Snedeker

May 10, 2003 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY

On Saturday evening, American Ballet Theatre celebrated the ABT and New York debut of Royal Ballet principal dancer Alina Cojocaru, with a vibrant performance of Natalia Makarova's "La Bayadère." The twenty-one-year old Cojocaru, who is dancing as a guest principal with ABT this season, was trained in Kiev, and at the Royal Ballet School on a Prix de Lausanne scholarship. She danced briefly with the Kiev Ballet before returning to the Royal Ballet, where she quickly progressed to the top ranks. Cojocaru was not the only dancer making a major debut – ABT soloist Stella Abrera debuted in the central role of Gamzatti.

The ballet is set in a mythical Indian kingdom, brought to life by Pierlugi Samaritani's richly colored, intricately detailed sets – the fabulous chess sets and lavish back drops of particular note, and Theoni Aldredge's glittering costumes. The dancers gave equally rich performances, beginning with Craig Salstein's wild, creature-like, yet strangely endearing Head Fakir. With his high twisting jumps, dervish-like spins and writhing mannerisms, Salstein was powerful as the slightly mysterious, ascetic mystic. Stella Abrera was cooly elegant and imperious as Gamzatti, one noticeable loss of balance the exception in an otherwise impressive debut. A technically precise and poised dancer, Abrera demonstrated her remarkable skills in the turns with the sweeping change of leg position, performed with solid assurance. In the small, but vital role of Ayah, new corps member Sarawanee Tanatanit was startlingly powerful and mysterious, using every inch of her lithe body and her intense eyes to convey her messages to Gamzatti. This was an Ayah with unearthly powers, bringing a spine chilling unease wherever she lurked.

Angel Corella was outstanding as Solor, the warrior deeply in love with the temple dancer Nikiya, but forced to marry the Rajah's daughter, Gamzatti. Corella, always an electric and powerful dancer, combined his stunning dancing with dramatic emotion. It's not only the height and speed of his dancing that so impresses, but the powerful snap of his movements, and the remarkable flow and combination of power and control in his dancing. Corella was especially moving in the brief opening solo of the second act, where Solor, in an opium-induced haze, mourns the death of Nikiya. With a crazed, haunted look in his eyes, and series of blazingly fast chaîné turns across the stage, Corella stunningly brought to life Solor's crazed, desperate anguish.

The petite Cojocaru was an ideal partner for Corella, well matched in size, appearance and sparkling technique. The soaring press lifts seemed effortless, and Cojocaru's positions were gorgeous. Her turns were tight, and quick, her grand jetes fully extended with feet perfectly pointed and her dancing delicately powerful. At times though, she seemed too small for the enormous Metropolitan Opera House stage, her presence not enough to reach all the way out into the far reaches of the audience. Perhaps a bit more attention to enhancing her already expressive face with makeup, and increased comfort with the stage will help bring her power to more of the audience in her remaining performance.

The corps was solid throughout the performance, but was simply stunning in the Second Act dream dance of The Shades. Led by Renata Pavam, Erica Cornejo and Maria Riccetto, the shades were unerringly synchronized during their long, spell-binding procession down the hidden ramp, with a pleasing attention to carriage of arms and head. The long pauses in arabasque were near flawless, with the Shades moving in an almost eery cohesion, truly multiple images of the same person. Bravo to all the corps ladies! Joaquin De Luz's Bronze Idol solo was dramatically danced, with an appropriate mix of characterization and bravura skills. The final-scene Candle Dance is always visually breathtaking, but on this night not danced with as much precision as it could have been, the clang of colliding lights slightly jarring.

With Victor Barbee completing the cast as the High Brahmin and Guillaume Graffin as the Rajah, it was a night of delightfully extravagant storytelling, excellent dancing and exciting debuts. If ABT can keep up this level of energetic and enjoyable dancing, it bodes well for a successful season.

Edited by Malcolm Tay.

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