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ABT La Bayadere at Kennedy Center

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Alexandra, since no one is willing to go first, couldn't you please give us a hint or two of what to expect this evening?

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I'll give you my audience survey:

Anecdote One:

Several people (long-time fans) came up to me at intermission and said, trying hard not to give away their own positions, "So, what do you think of this evening?" I said, "Much better than opening night!!" They all (this was about 4 people, separately) looked a bit surprised. One said, "Gosh, then Sarah's review must be right!" (refering to the review of the opening night ABT performance by Sarah Kaufman in the Post which indicated that all was not well.) I gathered from this that this small, non-random sample, was not happy with the performance.


Anecdote Two:

At the second intermission, I heard a woman say to her companion, "That was so beautiful. I think that's the loveliest Shades scene I've ever seen."

Anecdote Three:

Another long-time ABT-goer. "They are so much worse than they were five years ago. It's hard to watch."

Anecdote Four: I was in orchestra front. The people around me all seemed to be having a wonderful time. Sustained applause after Shades -- really generous, genuine "thank you, we love you" applause. And multiple curtain calls, including front of the curtain calls.

So there you have it -- as always, in the eye of the beholder.

I've never seen this production of Bayadere (!!!). I was sick or out of town the previous times it came here. So I found it interesting because it was new. I thought some of the mime was very well done, but the story is not at all clearly told and IMHO the made-up final act is the silliest echt-Petipa I've ever seen.

I liked Michele Wiles' Gamzatti very much. Carreno (Solor) was a bit off, but I don't mind seeing a fine dancer off-form. Paloma Herrera danced Nikiya -- some lovely moments, but my benchmark for this one is Van Hamel (It's been a Van Hamel kind of week, between Raymonda and Bayadere). Some of the soloists were very nice, but more and more when I see ABT in classical dancing -- they seem to take no pleasure in it. The energy goes into doing steps and gestures dutifully. But when you see a Russian dancer in something like this, the style is so inbred that each solo is individual, it becomes a personal statement. Watching that is a large part of the pleasure I take in watching classical dancing, and that I don't see.

I'm much more interested in what you all thought :) I hope we'll have report.s Jeannie, I KNOW YOU WERE THERE.

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I have yet to finish my thoughts on the mixed program, but since I saw "La Bayadere" last night (Saturday), I wish to add some of preliminary remarks to this thread.

The best part of the ballet was undoubtedly Roberta Marquez's debut in the title role. Her classical technique is pure and elegant, but I think that it was the emotion that she brought to the role that made it so memorable. Her facial expressions perfectly conveyed the love she felt for Solor in the first scene of act I and the hurt she felt when Solor was with Gamzatti. But I was in the second row, so I could see facial expressions perfectly . . . however, those who were not so near were not disadvantaged in this respect because her emotion was so evident in her body. Roberta is really quite a tiny woman, but she draws all eyes to her when she dances. Hmmm, I think I need to think of a more colorful description for those who were not present - I'll post it when I do.

Ethan Stiefel danced Solor, and he is the reason I went Saturday night. His dancing was as thrilling to watch as always, and the audience absolutely loved him. I did too . . .

Stella Abrera made an incredible Gamzatti. She was so beautiful and regal in her bearing, yet she was ice cold even when with Solor. Her solo in the temple in the third act really drew tears from my eyes - her movement was so intense yet in a cool, detached kind of way.

Herman Cornejo as the bronze idol was another high point in the ballet. I don't really know why he was in the ballet (this was my first full-length Bayadere!) but he looked wonderful - so light yet powerful in his jumps. Other highlights that I remeber from off the top of my head (I don't have my program with me): Sascha Radetsky looking so elegant and classical in the pas d'action (or whatever it was called), David Hallburg as Solor's friend (can't wait to see more of this talented dancer!), and Victor Barbee as the sinister high brahmin.

These were the accolades. Now onto the not so positive parts of my review . . . The corps de ballet was, in a word, awful. I cringed every time they started dancing, although I was used to them by the end. The women (not a lot of men in this ballet . . .) were often out of sync and very varied in technique. I was so looking forward to the act II shades entrance, and I was disappointed to see that the corps did not move together. Their arabesques were very off - some dancers were early, others were late. When they lined up on the two sides of the stage and did arabesques, I could clearly see that some girls' legs were lower, some were higher - it was all very uneven. Every one seemed to be doing their own thing. The less people who were dancing on stage (preferably just Ethan, Roberta, and Stella), the better the ballet looked. I was also surprised to see that some of the corps dancers, especially next to Stella and Roberta, looked, well, a bit un-ballerina-ish. I'm no advocate of anorexic dancers; however, these girls looked too fat (I had hoped to avoid this word, but . . .). I can't imagine that ABT wouldn't be able to get more ballerina-like dancers with all the hundreds of talented girls who would die to be in the company. The couple next to me also commented on this fact.

All in all, I enjoyed the performance when the leads and soloists were dancing; I did not when they weren't. As much as I love full-length classical ballets, I'm thinking that I would much rather see ABT only do excerpts from them. Their corps is just not up to the demands of classical ballet even as their principals continue to excel at it.

But this was my opinion. I heard a number of people discuss how much they loved the shades scene, and the applause following their entrance lasted forever. I even heard people say that the performance was "oerfect." Maybe, like the rest of you on this board, I'm just more critical than most.

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Guest Bethy   
Guest Bethy

My thought on American Ballet Theatre’s La Bayadère Saturday night (2/7):

The tiny Roberta Marquez made a beautiful Nikiya. I thought she was very expressive, and technically very strong. The only complaint I have about her is her hands. They were incredibly tense through all her dancing, and she sprawled her fingers out as she moved her arms. The rest of her body though was exquisite. She told the story of Nikiya through her facial expressions and movement, which I think is what makes a great ballerina great. Stella Abrera was also very strong as Gamzatti. She was technically very good, and definitely had the regal manner down pat. She had me believing that she was royalty so quickly that I was shocked when she was brought to her knees in front of Nikiya during the first act.

Of course I loved Ethan Steifel as Solor. His first act variation during his pas de deux with Gamzatti (I had always thought it was the wedding pas, but in this version they weren’t yet married. Was I wrong?) was very powerful, and beautifully danced. However, if I had to pick a favorite dancer from the ballet I would be stuck between Roberta Marquez and Herman Cornejo who danced the Bronze Idol. His positions were perfectly placed, and he jumped with a lightness and effortlessness that I didn’t notice in Steifel. Without a doubt, the Bronze Idol variation was my favorite, but perhaps I’m a little biased because I absolutely love the music and was looking forward to it from the beginning of the ballet!

The soloists in both the first and second acts were all very strong dancers. I would have to agree though, that the corps de ballet was not top notch. During the Shades enterance, there were some shaky moments when I wasn’t sure if a ballerina or two would make it without dropping a leg out of arabesque. I had also seen ABT’s Mixed Bill program (on Thursday night) and was relieved to see that the corps was at least more together than they were in Raymonda. Overall I thought Shades was pretty good, even though there were a few corps members who could’ve (and should have) been better. One more note on the corps de ballet: did anyone else notice during the first act (in what I always though was the wedding pas) that one of the corps dancers was missing her fan-like prop? She was standing in the front on stage left when Carlos Molina (the Radjah) noticed, laughed at her, and handed her one. I couldn’t help but laugh and be relieved that even the pros mess up in stupid ways too!

That’s all I have to comment on. The audience seemed to enjoy the ballet much more than Thursday night’s mixed bill, and I certainly did too.

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I attended today's matinee with a lead cast of Irina Dvorovenko, Jose Manuel Carreno, and Michele Wiles. I have to say that in all the years I've been watching ABT do this production -- over twenty, plus the six years before that when they did only the Shades scene -- I've never seen a flatter, more dispirited performance. The pull of Bayadere in the ABT repertory for me has always been its artistic unity and stylistic integrity, which were Makarova's great gifts to a company not known for either. Somehow, she managed to pull all those people from different backgrounds together, and make them committed to what they were doing. Today, it looked like just another day at the office. No one except the three principals -- well, make that two principals -- seemed to know or care what they were doing; it was "if it's Sunday this must be Bayadere." Natasha, come home. You're needed.

I haven't seen much of Dvorovenko, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Knowing that she was trained in Kiev, I did think that she'd have been exposed to this ballet from an early age and come to it with an understanding that some of her colleagues lack. So I was taken aback by what I saw. Nikiya has to establish herself as an icon of purity, which the ballerina shows through her classical style. From her entrance, Dvorovenko, all wriggly plastique, looked like a modern/character dancer. And her manner towards Carreno's ardent Solor was glacial, which made me dislike her almost at once. And when Wiles came out, so upright and true in her classicism, my sympathies immediately went to her. In the confrontation scene between the two women, I was rooting for Gamzatti. This has never happened before in all the performances of Bayadere -- by ABT and other companies -- I've seen.

I didn't think the Shades scene was as chaotic as some of the other posters; perhaps by today's performance they'd got it together. :D But other aspects of the scene did bother me. DancingGiselle has already mentioned the varying heights of the legs in arabesque, but more serious I think was the fact that when the girls stepped into the position, the legs just went up, instead of the whole body dipping and blooming into arabesque. Perhaps it's just that their backs are inflexible, but I suspect there are more secrets there that a Makarova or another experienced coach could reveal to them.

The Shades were sketchily danced by Anna Liceica, Carmen Corella, and Melissa Thomas (replacing Veronika Part), and someone should tell Corella to save her happy grin for Don Quixote. Carlos Molina doesn't know how to walk across a stage and show majesty and authority, or even paternity (if I hadn't known the story I'd never have guessed that he was Gamzatti's father).

In fairness I should say that the audience seemed very happy with the whole thing. Their applause and cheers sounded heartfelt.

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Sounds like a mess.

What on earth is going on at ABT? This is not some hastily-formed pick-up company with sub-professional dancers.

I don't criticise the dancers en masse, for something is obviously seriously amiss in coaching, rehearsal schedules, or both.....

Part and Meunier probably both had stress reactions when they saw how things were going....I'd have had a stress reaction, albeit of a different sort, if I'd been sitting in that audience......!

This is very dispiriting news.....

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I think Craig Salstein was to do his first Bronze Idol at the Sunday matinee.

Can anyone who was there tell us how he did?

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I am not a dance critic by any means, just your average ballet goer, so I would probably be considered part of the audience that Ari said seemed "happy with the whole thing." While I agree that the corps continued to have its ups and downs, I thought the principals at Sunday's matinee were terrific. I was absolutely wowed by Jose Manuel Correno -- I thought he was exceptional. I also thought that he and Irina were well-suited -- and that she danced beautifully -- however, I do not have 20 years of Bayadere viewing to compare it to. I was not rooting for Gamzatti, in fact, just the opposite. However, I agree that Michelle Wiles was wonderful in her role.

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Thank you, Juliet, for asking the question that has been on my mind. What on earth IS happening?

These reviews make me feel relieved that I didn't spend top dollar for tickets to their March run of Swan Lake in Chicago. I'd been second-guessing that decision from the moment the ticket guy pressed "enter". No longer.

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There are several things that may be happening.

One, there are quite a few new corps dancers; it takes them awhile to get settled in. The new dancers have replaced senior corps -- women around 27, 28, just coming into their strength as dancers; many have disappeared in the past few years.

Two, there have been changes backstage in the last few years. Ross Stretton and David Richardson were both said to be excellent balletmasters; neither are still with the company. (Yes, I know that Stretton didn't do well as an artistic director, but that's different from taking rehearsals.)

Three, they don't have a ballerina. Ballerinas can hide a multitude of sins and can pull a ballet together. When you're watching a star couple tear up the stage, you might not notice the problems.

Four, some of the things that look so jarring here may not "read" at the Met. The KenCen Opera House is a smaller house, and one is more likely to see smaller details. There is one theory that the Met has been doing the company harm and is responsible for the emphasis on BIG steps at the expense of subtlety.

There could also be unfortunate illnesses, injuries, unforeseen circumstances that we won't know about.

I'd like to thank everyone who's spoken so far on this thread. We've had more comments than we've ever had from D.C. -- THANK YOU. Keep it up :wink: We've got a lot of ballet coming up in the next few months.

I hope there will be more comments. There are still some people who haven't rung in yet.

Edited by Alexandra

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I'm not always close to a computer so this is coming a bit late...sorry!

I attended the Friday-night opening performance of ABT's 'Bayadere,' as Alexandra noted elsewhere (!!).

Yes - it was a far more satisfying night than was the Tuesday 'Mixed Bill Evening.' This is due to the fantastic performances by the three lead soloists, particularly Michele Wiles as Gamzatti. Wiles was technically brilliant, and appropriately haughty in her acting; she is the finest Gamzatti I've ever seen since Terekhova at the Kirov-Mariinsky. Wiles's solo in the betrothal scene was exquisite - especially that slow & floating TRIPLE attitude pirouette in the middle of the first diagonal. There were audible gasps & 'wows!' all around me as she seemed to perform that pirouette in slow motion...as if sustained by the Gods, through some magic strings, she was so perfectly straight, balanced, simply floating. [Does the KC have a 'house camera'? How the heck can I get to see that again? ha-ha]

Herrera is one of the most pleasing Nikiyas I've seen in ages...only Lopatkina & Guillem, among those I've seen 'live', are more impressive. This was unexpected, as I have never thought of Paloma Herrera as being particularly brilliant in adagio-lyrical-type roles. [Herrera is my quintessential Kitri...not an Odette or Nikiya.] Herrera's lyricism and -- gasp! -- perfect arms, in additiona to her normally-perfect legs & feet, offered a delightful surprise. OK, so she 'cheated' the pirouettes during the 'scarf' section of the Shades scene by putting her free foot down on the stage imediately after the first turn in each direction...but her Act I/sc iii solo during the betrothal was so well thought-out and musical, that it brought tears to my eyes. The 'Little Whiz-Kid Paloma' of the mid-1990s has matured into a true artist and ballerina, IMO.

Carreno 'delivered' as Solor, his Act II (Shades scene) solo being especially strong. He is a truly charming & 'manly' Solor...and his lifting of Harrera-Nikiya was spot-on. Gorgeous swan lifts. All the ABT ballerinas must surely fight for the chance to be partnered by such a steady & gracious premier danseur!

Hernan Cornejo was a dynamic Bronze Idol. Gennadi Saveliev, as Magdaveya, performed some of the highest 'swastika-leg leaps' over the fire that I have ever seen!

The three shades were all quite wonderful, obviously well reheared, full of Kirov-Mariinsky traits & subtle mannerisms, making me wonder of Kolpakova was the coach for all three. First Solo Shade was Erica Cornejo, with a wonderful allegro style & truly-Kirov-style quick little jetes in the middle section; if only she could learn to tame that Pepsodent grin! Second Shade was, to me , the most magnificent of all -- Stella Abrera -- textbook perfect...without unecessary affectations. Third Shade requires the most balance & control...usually botched...but Maria Riccetto danced it well, although she was a bit 'jerky' in the middle section of transitional arabesques.

Now the problems...I'll work my way up to the bigger problems:

AJA & Character (mime) dancing, in general - Sarawanee Tanatanit can't be more than 20 or 21 years of age (and looks it)...so why the heck cast her as the mischevious elderly servant Aja, a role that is usually taken by the most senior character dancer at the Kirov & Bolshoi...and elder coaches in the west (remember Gerd Larsen doing it at the Royal). Other 'character-mime' roles were also ineffective...eg., Victor Barbee is a wimp of a High Brahmin. He is no Vladimir Ponomaryov or Gennadi Selyutsky!!!! Ok, OK, I don't expect Americans to pull-out the acting stops like Russians but I expect a bit of emoting...I sat in front-row orchestra & still got very little 'feel' for the miming by all of the actors. Doesn't ABT have a coach for this sort of dancing-acting?

The CORPS - A total mess in Acts I & III; obviously well-drilled for Shades but, even there, the stylistic differences were obvious, not to mention the strangely diverse body types, just in the front row of the Shades! It was jarring. OK, so I realize that we cannot expect all 32 (or in this case, 24) Shades to have the same curvy 'Vaganova legs' & super-slim torsos & eloquent tappered arms that we see on rows of Kirov & Bolshoi girls but...still...I remember far better-matched & more 'fit-slim' ABT Shades groups in the 1980s (Baryshnikov era) and even in the late-1990s when I traveled to the Met to see Wiles' first time dancing 3rd Shade. What on earth has happened to the ABT female classical corps de ballet since the late 1990s? Who is their coach now; is it the same person as before (I don't keep up with these things...wondering...)? Maybe the answer is that offered by Alexandra, a few posts above, regarding the hiring-and-firing practices among the corps, of late?

Finally - THIS 'BAYADERE LITE' PRODUCTION by Makarova, which I used to love, now DRIVES ME NUTS. They say 'Ignorance is bliss' and that is true. Twenty-odd years ago, before I had ever seen the Kirov or Bolshoi or traveled anywhere (or had access to videos from scads of countries), I thought that this production was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Now it is very frustrating to realize that, all of these years, I had been watching a drastically-truncated version of a great ballet. [i'm comparing ABT-Makarova to the traditional Soviet standard, the 1940s/50s Chaboukiani et al version, not the 4-hr-long recent Kirov reconstruction of the Petipa 1900.] For example, now I know that, in ABT-Makarova version, the Act I 'Fire Girls' dance has no musical repetitions (and the phrasing of the steps is all different)...that the Jampe Girls dance approximately 50% of the origjnal music...that there is no Grand Parade with elephant, parrot girls, etc., to begin the Betrothal Scene...that the Bronze Idol's once-majestic music, with lots of brass, has been re-orchestrated to a tinkling ditty. On the positive side, ABT has an 'original' (concocted by Makarova) Act III that the Soviets cut in the 1920s...and STILL the Soviet-Kirov version has a more 'complete' feeling for me. It is relaxing, not rushed, like ABTs. Go figure. But now I am making unfair comparisons, for which I apologize.

Thanks to the major soloists, I leave DC with mostly-fine memories of ABT. I sure hope that the coaches for corps and character dancers can get therir respective acts together. Onwards and upwards.

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I saw all four of the performances at the Kennedy Center. I agree that the company has suffered significantly from the absence of David Richardson. It is the acting that is missing from so many performances. While Ethan Stiefel is a marvelous and strong dancer, he cannot effectively express any emotion (similar problem with his cartoonish performance in Le Corsaire). On the other hand, Carreno is a masterful actor and his acting in La Bayadere should be the standard to which others should strive. I believe it is the first time a male dancer has brought me to (almost) tears. I noticed no one has mentioned Ashley Tuttle in this thread but although she is a gifted dancer with many admirable qualities, acting is not one of them, and I have grown weary of her plastered stewardess grin.

As for the Bronze (Golden) Idol, it is always an audience favorite and while Salstein was good, Cornejo was very, very good, and Lopez just down a notch.

I love Stella Abrera and think we can expect wonderful things from her, but her Gamzatti was a bit stiff (IMHO). Irina is OK but also not an effective actress. Wiles was very good and Murphy I also liked. But, still I must ask generally, where is the acting? Where is the passion?

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