La Bayadère was never one of my favorite ballets; for some reason it never inspired me. The convoluted, soap opera story is set in Royal India and focuses on Solor, a noble warrior, and the temple dancer Nikiya, the woman he loves. Solor is forced to marry the Radjah’s daughter, Gamzatti. After a knife fight with Nikiya, Gamzatti hides a poisonous snake in a basket of flowers, Nikiya is bitten by the snake and dies at the end of Act I. The spirit of Nikiya lives on in Acts II and III in the Kingdom of the Shades and the final scene in which she convinces the gods to arrange an earthquake that kills everyone. Nikiya and Solor reunite at the end in eternal love. ABT’s is the popular Natalia Makarova version (which ABT debuted in 1980) after Marius Petipa’s Imperial Ballet version of 1877. Alastair Macaulay of The New York Times calls the Makarova version “demure” and “inferior.”
Whatever the reason for my less than enthusiastic response to the ballet, I enjoyed the high level of dancing on display last week. I saw three casts: Veronica Part, Denys Nedak, and Gillian Murphy as Nikiya, Solor, and Gamzatti, respectively on Thursday; Alina Cojocaru, Herman Cornejo, Misty Copeland Friday; and Maria Kochetkova, Leonid Sarafanov, Isabella Boylston Saturday evening.
Herman Cornejo was an impressive and powerful Solor Friday. He was commanding, confident and assured, coupled with stellar technique as he sailed through the difficult solos. Standout moments include his flying massive separation double cabrioles in his first solo, nicely controlled multiple turns in second position, finished off with five perfect pirouettes. In his second solo in Act II, he performed massive split double cabrioles to the front, and six controlled pirouettes. In the double assemble menage made famous by Nureyev (Ana Kisselgoff, New York Times dance critic: “Every male dancer who takes for granted the series of double assemble turns in the air in La Bayadere should know that it was Nureyev who first included these difficult steps.”) he did the step with a bent knee before straightening and assembling his legs. This was a stellar performance by an amazing performer. At are 34, he has not lost a step from his amazing feats in his 20s.
The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Leonid Sarafanov was also impressive Saturday evening. He has a tall, thin build, with gorgeous line and feet. He was an animated Solor, in charge at times, and other times torn between his love of Nikiya and his duty to marry Gamzatti. His technique is wonderful, with a powerful leaping ability. He had a nice turn sequence of multiple turns in second position followed by three consecutive double tours to the knee. He is proficient at multiple double tours, a difficult step not performed often. In the 2006 Mariinsky Don Quixote DVD, he ripped off six consecutive double tours. In the YouTube video below, he does 11 double tours, an amazing achievement.
Denys Nedak of the National Ballet of Ukraine was Solor Thursday. His performance was fine but not particularly memorable. His solos were serviceable although he struggled in his turns in second position to attitude turns as he bailed out at the last second, avoiding disaster.
I enjoyed the three Nikiya leads and all were in fine form. Maria Kochetkova of The San Francisco Ballet displayed nice supple back bends, soft landings on leaps without much noise, and furious chaine and pique turns in the Act II dream scene. Alina Cojocaru gave an impassioned performance as Nikiya. Alina and Herman form an ideal partnership that we have missed for the past several years as Alina had to withdraw from several performances due to injury. Their Act II pas de deux, a result of Solor’s opium induced dream, was smooth and dreamlike. Her chaine turns were done with rapid fire accuracy and precision. Veronika Part was beautiful and etherial in the role, particularly in the dream scene. There were a few minor stumbles in the difficult scarf scene in several performances.
Gillian Murphy was a cold and nasty Gamzatti Thursday and handled the difficult Italian fouettés and regular fouettés well, as did Isabella Boylston on Saturday evening. I haven’t been a fan of Isabella up to this year. However, my mind has changed this year as her performances have been impressive. I found Misty Copeland’s Gamzatti technically lacking. She completed the difficult sections but with little authority and command. I also found her grand jetes forced and not appealing, particularly with noisy landings. I enjoyed Misty and Gillian’s dramatic side; Isabella was more relaxed and understanding. I prefer Gamzatti as cold and nasty.
La Bayadère has a number of dancing roles for the ladies. Most impressive was Skylar Brandt in her solo in The Shades on Friday. I liked her energetic dancing, solid pirouettes including a quad, and scoots in arabesque on pointe. She is a very impressive Corps dancer on her way to bigger roles.