Wednesday, May 23, 2012

American Ballet Theater – Minkus’s La Bayadere. May 22, 2012.

Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center – Dress Circle (Seat C7, $68).

Choreography by Natalia Makarova, after Marius Petipa
Music by Ludwig Minkus, specially arranged by John Lanchbery

Conductor – Charles Barker; Nikiya – Veronika Part, Solor – Marcelo Gomes, The Radjah Dugumanta – Gennadi Saveliev, Gamzatti - Gillian Murphy, The High Brahmin – Victor Barbee; Sarah Lane, Devon Teuscher and Yuriko Kajiya – Lead Shades.

Story.  Nikiya, a beautiful temple dancer, rejects the love of the High Brahmin; she instead falls in love with the warrior Solor.  The Brahmin vows to kill Solor as a result.  Separately, the Radjah wants to reward Solor by decreeing that he marry Gamzatti, the Radjah’s daughter.  Solor is overwhelmed by Gamzatti’s beauty, and, not wanting to defy the Radjah, agrees to marry her.  After being told of Nakiya’s love for Solor, the Radjah wants to have her killed.  Gamzatti meets with Nikiya which results in Nikiya trying to kill her.  At the wedding of Solor and Gamzatti, Nikiya is asked to dance.  She is bitten by the snake hidden in her bouquet and dies after refusing the antidate.  Solor is grief-stricken and, being under the influence of opium, dreams of Nikiya.  As the wedding ceremony of Solor and Gamzatti progresses, the gods become angry and destroys the temple and all the celebrants.  The ballet ends with Nikiya and Solor united again.

The story is simple enough, but doesn’t really hang together on close examination.  Few people go to ballets to hear a gripping story anyway, so that’s okay.  The ballet is also quite long, with the three acts lasting about 60, 40 and 20 minutes.  With two intermissions thrown in, the entire show is about 2 hours 45 minutes.  All together there is a lot of dancing and music.

The three principals (Solor, Nikiya and Gamzatti) all put in enjoyable performances.  Not knowing much about ballet, I can’t tell if they are virtuoso performances, but some of the movements look difficult enough, and the audience certainly applauded quite enthusiastically.  ABT has a very international staff: Gomes is from Brazil, Hart from Russia, and Murphy is American.  The group dancers also did well, although I often wonder if they can’t be more together as a group.  One dancer did trip and fall – it was when she first came in, so Anne though perhaps the stage was slippery.  From the smile on her face, she seemed okay.  Act II began with the descent of The Shades (spirits); they appeared one by one and eventually lined up six across and four deep.  The whole process took a while, but the Act itself was pleasant enough – even though it was Solor dreaming about the dead Nakiya.

The music is on the straight-forward side, written mostly to support the choreography.  There were quite a few solo passages (harp, flute, violin, cello, and perhaps others), and the soloists all did well.  On the other hand, I suspect in and of itself there is not much drama in the score.  I wonder how it would work if performed as a stand-alone piece.  The orchestra sounded well, albeit uninspired.

The sets are on the simple side, with the exception of Act III.  Even there we have only a staircase leading up to an altar.  A dance by a golden boy started Act III (it is described as a bronze idol in the program.)  Both Anne and I had always thought, after watching a James Bond movie, that one way to murder someone was to paint that person all gold; evidently that is not so.

If you ignore the costumes, there is not a lot of Indian in this ballet that supposedly happened in India.  Not the music, not the dance movements (most of them, anyway), and – in the case of Act II – not even the costume, which Anne observed to be standard ballet costume.  This seems to be very different from the attitude taken by opera production folks who strive for authenticity.

Perhaps the sign of a great performance is it looked effortless.  By that measure this was a great performance.  Or this could be it is easy to meet non-existent or low expectations.  Regardless, I enjoyed it.

It appears this ballet is a part of ABT’s standard repertoire, and I managed only to find a review from May 2010.  The reviewer goes into great contortion about the possibilities of the ballet, but is ultimately disappointed at the performance he saw.  Interestingly, Gamzatti and Solor were played by the same artists.  I knew there was something about Gillian Murphy, and the review pointed it out: “Will Gillian Murphy discover how to use the Bette Davis features of her face?”

We ate a light meal at home before we drove into the city.  And we found street parking that cost only 50 cents (for the 10 minutes before 7 pm).  Traffic was light both ways.

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