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The Maryinsky's "La Bayadère" at the Kennedy Center, 1/26/08

Posted by Hans , 30 January 2008 · 74 views


To discuss this performance, please go here.

This was my first live full-length "Bayadère," although previously I have seen the Royal Ballet, Paris Opéra Ballet, and Bolshoi Ballet productions on video, and I have seen the Maryinsky do the "Kingdom of the Shades" scene several times, both live and on video. This production is beautifully designed, with lush sets and beautiful costumes, and although there were too many obviously fake animals for my taste, at least it omitted some of the more racist elements of the original ballet.

Unfortunately, I found the staging (until the Grand Pas Classique and the Kingdom of the Shades) rather weak despite the deployment of more people onstage than most companies have the resources for. Nikiya is not given much to do in her Act I entrance besides saunter around en pointe for a while, and the mime between her, Solor, the High Brahmin, and the fakir was so vaguely sketched out that I had a hard time understanding what they were "saying," even though I understand classical mime and know the plot.

Act I, Scene II was not much better--lots of incoherent attempts to mime, which surprises me, given that the Maryinsky has been miming since before most ballet companies in operation today existed. A bright spot was the D'jampe dance, performed with spirit and precision by the corps. Less enjoyable was a mostly boring pas de deux featuring a little contortion toward the end, and by the time Act I was over I was beginning to see why certain people think old ballets ought to be scrapped. Lots of over-wrought, hand-wringing melodrama, hardly any choreography, and precious little logic or sense.

Act II was (eventually) an improvement. Aside from ladies dancing so carelessly with their taxidermied parrots that had the birds been alive they all would have had motion sickness, we had a tiger that appeared to be from Toys R Us, more taxidermied parrots hanging at bizarre angles from flower garlands, and a mechanical elephant with a dark-skinned mannequin attached to its head. This act featured a large corps dancing boring steps leading up to the Grand Pas Classique, which is beautifully choreographed for a couple and two trios, followed by Nikiya's sad dance.

Act III is, of course, an unsurpassed choreographic triumph. However, it is an unsatisfying ending to the ballet, as it leaves the gods' vengeance on Gamzatti, the Rajah, and the High Brahmin unresolved.

I was mostly unimpressed by the dancing, as the Maryinsky principals and soloists have been performing for a few years now as if they are competing at the Prix de Lausanne. Lots of big jumps, high extensions, careful preparations for pirouettes, student-like mistakes during relatively simple steps, and hardly any acting, refinement, or adapting one's style to suit the demands of a particular ballet or character. Tereshkina, with her small-featured, unexpressive face, was not, in my opinion, an appropriate choice for the dramatic, mysterious character of Nikiya. She did all the steps just fine, and often very well, but she has an overly long, un-classical line, and this combined with her willowy figure and careful way of moving prevents her from being powerfully expressive. Similarly, Korsakov as Solor had very neat technique, with soft, silent landings and precise footwork, but he is so intent on splitting his legs to 180º during every grand jeté that he often ends up looking as if he's auditioning for "A Chorus Line" rather than expressing nobility. I believe he could be a moving Solor with better coaching. The lady who danced Gamzatti was extremely pretty, with features that "read" up to the balcony, but she too was not a strong actress, and her dancing was riddled with technical insecurities.

The dancers I most enjoyed watching in this performance were the soloists and demi-soloists. Unlike the corps, which was very precise and detailed but whose steps were insultingly simple (I found myself thinking, "They were trained for eight years and mastered the difficult Vaganova syllabus to spend their days doing toe-pulls and jumping on one leg a few times?" Granted, technique at the corps level was probably not as advanced in 1877 as it was in the 1890's.) the soloists have steps that are just challenging enough to be interesting but not intimidating, and as they are not called upon to express anything in particular besides beauty and grace, they are able to just have fun and shine, and they excelled at this. Unfortunately, they too were subjected to the complete lack of attention to petit allegro that seems to have occurred at the Vaganova Academy about ten years ago, so their footwork was not as clean and precise as that of earlier dancers, but they were lovely to watch nonetheless.

In Act III, the corps danced, as always, perfectly, but the three soloists had problems. The first shade clearly wanted to dance at a faster tempo, and she would have been much better had she been allowed to. The second shade also had musical issues, perhaps due to the conductor not understanding how the steps fit to the music. The third shade was fine musically, but she was trying so hard to raise her leg during her opening diagonal that she unfolded it in two counts instead of one, landing from her sissonne in an awkward position before straightening her working leg. She had some trouble during the second part of her variation as well, but those steps are notoriously difficult. At the end, she floated down from her final grand jeté, making a completely seamless transition to her landing on one knee.

"La Bayadère" is, obviously, an important ballet, and it must continue to be performed. However, it must be performed as if it is still alive, not preserved in formaldehyde or treated with disdain (Kennedy Center orchestra, take note--Minkus's music is bad, but it sounds worse if you play it as if it's "Chopsticks"). The aforementioned ballet companies dance "La Bayadère" as if it's "Swan Lake" or "Sleeping Beauty" or "Giselle," and that is necessary if the audience is to take it seriously and stay until Act III.

To discuss this performance, please go here.



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