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Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
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American Ballet Theatre - La Bayadere

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 14, 2003
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023

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American Ballet Theatre - La Bayadere


Presented at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Victor Barbee, Assistant Artistic Director
Elizabeth Harpel Kehler, Executive Director
Ballet Masters, Guillaume Graffin, Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova, Georgina Parkinson, Kirk Peterson

Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
Farah Lopez, Manager, Press and Marketing

Review by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 14, 2003

La Bayadere : Ballet in Three Acts. Music by Ludwig Minkus, specially arranged by John Lanchbery, production conceived and directed by Natalia Makarova, Choreography by Natalia Makarova, after Marius Petipa, Scenery by Pierluigi Samaritani, Costumes designed by Theoni V. Aldredge, Lighting by Toshiro Ogawa, Production Coordinator, Dina Makarova, Performed by Nina Ananiashvili, Julio Bocca, Ethan Brown, Gillian Murphy, Brian Reeder, Sarawanee Tanatanit, Craig Salstein, Monique Meunier, Carmen Corella, Anna Liceica, Veronica Part, Gennadi Saveliev, and the Company, Conducted by David LaMarche.

Last summer I reviewed the Kirov Ballet version of La Bayadere (See July 12, 2002 Kirov Review and Stage Door Candids), which was beautiful, but, due to budgetary issues, no comparison to the magnitude of the ABT version, which I have known since Ms. Makarova staged this magnificent ballet in 1980. In shades of aqua, peach, and gold, this ballet, set in Royal India, is the usual tale of unrequited love, with opium and choreographed hallucinations, poison and snakes, a Radjah, whose daughter is supposed to marry the warrior, Solor, who loves Nikiya, the Temple Dancer, who is the obsession of a High Brahmin, who seeks revenge for his painful passion.

Ms. Ananiashvili is, in my opinion, the most talented Prima Ballerina in full-length theatrical ballets, with flawless form, spirited stage presence, and charismatic partnering, especially with Julio Bocca, who has realized his passionate persona this Season, as was apparent tonight, in his exquisite, bravura dancing, both solo and in the ephemeral presence of Ms. Ananiashvili. This role has been danced, over the years, by Susan Jaffe (recently retired, and involved in YAGP, See YAGP Awards Ceremony) and Ms. Makarova in the 1980's, whom I remember as a vulnerable and skilled Nikiya, as well as the Choreographer of this ballet. Ms. Ananiashvili, in a two-piece red Harem costume, danced the death dance, holding a basket of flowers and a poisoned snake, as if she would die of the emptiness of love lost, which, of course, actually happens, when she refuses the High Brahmin's antidote.

Mr. Bocca, who danced the role of Solor, was the original Bronze Idol, who appears in the last scene, in Ms. Makarova's version. Mr. Bocca has never lost his charisma or charm, and I have watched him learn to relate to his partner, as did Nureyev, with a dramatic urgency and angst, so necessary to these full-length ballets, with complicated stories that often unfold with fluffy fantasy or sorrowful tales of woe. As this night's Bronze Idol, Mr. Saveliev seemed too tall and over-stretched, in the very brief, but very high energy and muscular requirements for the pre-nuptial Temple Dance, which takes place on stairs. Although the gold skin paint, which also serves as tight facial makeup, must be very painful and distracting, Mr. Lopez, who is physically more like Mr. Bocca, and was to have danced this role, may have been better suited to its demands.

One of the high points of all ballet scenes is the Kingdom of the Shades Scene in Act II. This is an ephemeral scene of what appears to be a cast of thousands, but is actually about 27 Soloist and Corps dancers in gauzy, chiffony white, with a winged effect, as material is draped on the shoulders as part of the multiple visions in white, who emerge from the forest, one by one, in the same choreographed pattern, to repetitive music and motion. Once experienced, this scene is emblazoned on one's memory forever.

Ms. Ananiashvili and Mr. Bocca were outstanding in their partnered duets, as they have been frequent partners for so many years and have achieved a rare chemistry and comfort zone onstage. Ms. Murphy, as Gamzatti, who is to marry Solor, is a bit too distanced, emotionally, for this role, of one who seeks the ultimate revenge to protect her territory and affianced warrior. Yet, she danced with her signature sophistication and technical control. Ethan Brown was an appropriate Radjah, proud and prominent. Brian Reeder was an exceptional High Brahmin, who would extend his tall headpiece to Nikiya, pathetically begging on bent knee for her affection, and then switching roles to lead his Royal followers to a doomed wedding in an imploding, but giant Temple.

Craig Salstein was a superb Head Fakir, bent on one knee as he crawled and crept around the fire and remarkable stage sets, as a foreboding and frightening creature, sometimes leading his six Fakirs, and sometimes guiding the opium pipe to Solor's hand, to enable the impending hallucinations, which are replicas of the dead Nikiya, who later appears as one more hallucination at the doomed wedding, to distract and disturb the bride and groom, the High Brahmin and guests, bearing candles. This candle dance, itself, is an event. The Shades Scene is an event. The Bronze Idol dance is an event. And, Nikiya's Death Dance with flowers and poison snake is an event. The Temple Dancers create an event, and the imploding Temple is an event.

La Bayadere is a multitude of layered ballets, theatricality, textured and colorful, sets and costumes, passion and pain, vengeance and visions. With Nina Ananiashvili and Julio Bocca in lead roles, La Bayadere is an exquisite experience, an emblazoned memory, a treasured night at the Met Opera House, my favorite theater, with gold ceilings, crystal chandeliers, and red velvet and brass everywhere. Kudos to Natalia Makarova for this quintessential, full-length ballet.

Nina Ananiashvili as Nikiya and Julio Bocca as Solor in La Bayadère.
Photo courtesy of MIRA

Nina Ananiashvili as Nikiya and Julio Bocca as Solor in La Bayadère.
Photo courtesy of MIRA

Nina Ananiashvili as Nikiya in La Bayadère.
Photo courtesy of Nancy Ellison

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