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American Ballet Theatre: La Bayadere 2015

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American Ballet Theatre

La Bayadère 2015
Ballet in Three Acts

At the
Metropolitan Opera House

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Chief Executive Officer
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters: Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova,
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa, Keith Roberts
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
James Timm, Director of Marketing and Brand Management
Susan Morgan Taylor, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 5, 2015

(Read More ABT Reviews)

(See a Conversation with Conductor, David LaMarche, on this Season’s Ballet Music.)

La Bayadère (1980): Choreography by Natalia Makarova after Marius Petipa (1877), Music by Ludwig Minkus, specially arranged by John Lanchbery, production conceived and directed by Natalia Makarova, Scenery by Pierluigi Samaritani, Costumes designed by Theoni V. Aldredge, Lighting by Toshiro Ogawa, Production Coordinator, Dina Makaroff.

Set in Royal India, Nikiya, a temple dancer, is betrayed by the High Brahmin, who desires her to despair, but is thwarted by Solor, a warrior, whose photograph is the object of desire for Gamzatti, the Radjah's daughter. The High Brahmin tips off the Radjah, whose daughter is now affianced to Solor, that Nikiya is romantically involved with Solor, as the Brahmin reveals to the Radjah Nikiya's silky scarf. The Radjah and Gamzatti arrange for Nikiya to be bitten by a snake in a flower basket, as Nikiya dances at Gamzatti and Solor's pre-wedding festivities. Nikiya refuses the Brahmin's bottled antidote and falls lifeless from the snakebite, when she sees Solor and Gamzatti leave, holding hands. Solor, consumed in grief, smokes opium and envisions 24 Shades, all in ghost-like resemblance to Nikiya. A Bronze Idol dances in rapid exultation to herald the wedding. Solor, however, remembers Nikiya's vision as he prepares to marry Gamzatti, and this vision re-appears at the ceremony, prior to a candle dance. But, soon the gods are angry, and the temple and guests are buried in the temple's implosion. Finally, Nikiya and Solor re-unite in the afterlife. (ABT Notes)

Cast on June 1, 2015:
Conductor: David LaMarche

Performed by Hee Seo as Nikiya, a temple dancer, Kimin Kim as Solor, a warrior, Alexandre Hammoudi as The Radjah Dugumanta, Gillian Murphy as Gamzatti, the Radjah’s daughter, Thomas Forster as The High Brahmin, Zhong-Jing Fang as Aya, Gamzatti’s servant, Arron Scott as Magdaveya, Head Fakir, Stephanie Williams and Melanie Hamrick as lead D’Jampe Dancers, Christine Shevchenko, Devon Teuscher, and Stella Abrera as lead Shades, Craig Salstein as The Bronze Idol, and the Company as The Fakirs, The Temple Dancers, Solor’s Friend, The Warriors, D’Jampe Dancers, Waltz, Pas d’Action, The Shades, The Candle Dance, Flower Girls, Warrior Attendants, Palace Slaves, and Priests.

Cast on June 5, 2015:
Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins

Performed by Alina Cojocaru as Nikiya, a temple dancer, Herman Cornejo as Solor, a warrior, Grant DeLong as The Radjah Dugumanta, Misty Copeland as Gamzatti, the Radjah’s daughter, Roman Zhurbin as The High Brahmin, Marian Butler as Aya, Gamzatti’s servant, Craig Salstein as Magdaveya, Head Fakir, Isadora Loyola and Christine Shevchenko as lead D’Jampe Dancers, Skylar Brandt, Stephanie Williams, and Cassandra Trenary as lead Shades, Joseph Gorak as The Bronze Idol, and the Company as The Fakirs, The Temple Dancers, Solor’s Friend, The Warriors, D’Jampe Dancers, Waltz, Pas d’Action, The Shades, The Candle Dance, Flower Girls, Warrior Attendants, Palace Slaves, and Priests.

The stars of both performances of Ballet Theatre’s, three-act La Bayadère are the dancers in the Corps, at the top of Act II, as they enter rear, stage right, in eloquent arabesques in motion, a synchronized force of twenty-four, hypnotically walking down a cliff, in warrior, Solor’s opium-infused dream. Each Shade, as they are called, bears a resemblance to Nikiya (see plot above), the temple dancer, who has just died of a snakebite, thanks to Solor’s duplicity in inviting two women to wed, Nikiya and Gamzatti, the Radjah’s daughter. At his pre-wedding dance, he had walked away from the dying Nikiya, before she refused the antidote to rescue her life. The Ludwig Minkus music is ethereal, memorable, and magnetic. It stays with you. Again, on both nights the Corps was exquisite, refined, flowing, and flawless. The audience cheered for the Corps at the end of this segment. There are numerous leads in the ballet story’s plot, each with his/her own solos and showcased moments. On each night there were strengths and challenges, some more pronounced than others.

For Ballet Theatre’s La Bayadère, as in recent seasons, several guest artists appeared, some known, some not known. On opening night of the weekly run, June 1, Kimin Kim, from Korea, who dances with the Mariinsky Ballet in Russia, was intriguing and skillful, leaping like a gazelle, exuding regality and courage, as Solor, the warrior in India. He became an instant hit with the audience. Unfortunately, his partner, Hee Seo, also of Korean roots, in the role of Nikiya, was dramatically shallow, weak in the knees (stumbled in the flower basket dance, risking an early entrance of the hidden snake), and detached emotionally. She made a nice appearance in the temple dance costumes, exotically designed by Theoni Aldredge, but exuded no pathos. Her pas de deux with Mr. Kim, which had been highly publicized in the New York Korean press, with many representatives in attendance, were, sadly, low in chemistry. To be fair, Ms. Seo had filled in for an injured Polina Semionova, but Mr. Kim, in his ABT debut, deserved a stronger partner; even a rising Soloist might have saved the evening.

On June 5, Nikiya and Solor were quintessentially and extraordinarily matched. A familiar guest artist from the English National Ballet, Alina Cojocaru, was Nikiya, with Ballet Theatre’s own star, Herman Cornejo, as Solor. Theirs is a practiced partnership, with both dancers short in stature and packed with balance, skill, and persona. There was no basket drop in this performance of Nikiya’s dance at Gamzatti and Solor’s pre-wedding celebration, and Ms. Cojocaru’s death-dance scene was brimming with pathos. The chemistry of this duo was theatrically thick, and they made the most of their spotlighted roles. In the Act II hallucination, after the Shades sequence is complete, the scarf-held pas de deux was so stunning and rapturous, the audience was breathless. Mr. Cornejo, the ebullient stylist, created his iconic, dizzying spins and elevated leaps, and he spun Ms. Cojocaru, like a top, in place. He also lifted and carried her about, effortlessly.

As Gamzatti, the steely daughter of the Radjah, who has her claws into her engagement with Solor, there is little doubt that Gillian Murphy, on the 1st, was the more seasoned, with Misty Copeland, on the 5th, a bit rougher, but still seething and energized. One would not want to cross Ms. Murphy’s Gamzatti, with her deep gaze and determination. Her lengthy solos had silent landings of the many devilish twirls. Ms. Copeland is still working on quiet landings, but she exuded youthful spunk and ingénue retaliation. Unfortunately, the basket dance, which has fingers and eyes pointing to Gamzatti and the Radjah, on the 1st, deprived Ms. Murphy of her spotlight, when Ms. Seo let go of the basket mid-dance. It must be held upright in the swirling, not upside down. Both evenings were well dramatized in Gamzatti’s illumination. On the 1st, Arron Scott was Magdaveya, the head fakir, who catapults over the temple flames. He was more nuanced and interesting than was Craig Salstein on the 5th, who was more campy. I wish a choreographer would create a comic ballet around Mr. Salstein, who deserves his own lead. He may be one of the best comic ballet artists, ever, but, in the wrong roles, he comes across as overstated.

The High Brahmin, a prime role, is infatuated with Nikiya, who, in turn, is repulsed by him. It is he, who tries to save Nikiya’s life with the snakebite antidote, which she refuses, when hope is lost for her to reunite with Solor. On the 1st, Thomas Forster was in the role, and on the 5th, it was Roman Zhurbin. In matters of ballet drama, there is no equal to Roman Zhurbin, who is a master dramatist. He, too, deserves his own ballet lead. Both Mr. Zhurbin and Mr. Salstein are Soloists. Both are highly talented but not romantic leads. Both have played the drag roles of Cinderella’s sisters, in the Ashton version, but those are not lead roles. A choreographer could make much of a ballet, with this duo in two leads. As the Radjah, both Alexandre Hammoudi, on the 1st, and Grant DeLong, on the 5th, were well suited for the secondary role. Zhong-Jing Fang, on the 1st, and Marian Butler, on the 5th, danced the role of Aya, Gamzatti’s servant, who walks in huddled form, bringing Nikiya the deadly flower basket Of the Lead D’Jampe Dancers and the Lead Shades, all casts, both nights, were superb. As Bronze Idol, Joseph Gorak, on the 5th, was more subtle and elevated than was Craig Salstein on the 1st.

Both David LaMarche and Ormsby Wilkins, Conductors, on the 1st and 5th, kept the mesmerizing score transporting and translucent. Kudos to all.

Hee Seo and Kimin Kim
in "La Bayadère"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Alina Cojocaru and Herman Cornejo
in "La Bayadère"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at