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Saturday, June 6, 2015

La Bayadere Brought to Life

Photo by Gene Schiavone
There are certain performances where you go in with low or no expectations. I've sort of come to accept ABT's La Bayadere as a weak-tea version of Petipa's grand ballet. The corps formations in the Kingdom of the Shades are simplified, the variations are often a mess, and sometimes even the biggest stars can't keep the flame alive. I wasn't even planning on attending last evening's performance of La Bayadere. It was a last minute decision.

Well, despite many faults, I ended up liking this performance way more than I expected. Credit goes almost completely to Alina Cojocaru, the tiny, waiflike dancer whom I saw in this role more than 10 years ago. 10 years later, Cojocaru has suffered injury after injury, and you can sometimes tell with her occasionally shaky pirouettes and balances. But it's remarkable how much Cojocaru still has to offer in this role.


Cojocaru is one of the smallest ballerinas on the stage, but she dances big. For one, the plasticity of her upper body is amazing -- actually, it's superior to Vaganova-trained Olga Smirnova, whom I saw last year. In the opening fire dance, she stretched her tiny, delicate limbs and back and her whole body seemed to flicker like a delicate but persistent flame. Her jumps are high, she has incredible ballon, and soft landings. It must take a lot of strength to fly so high in the air and stay there for such a long time, but, unlike, say, Natalia Osipova, Cojocaru's jumps look effortless. What's more, Cojocaru brings to Nikya the same spirit she brings to Giselle -- a kind of inner light and spirituality that make the character's actions and motivations understandable. Her dance with the basket was truly a dance of grief, punctuated by her deep bows to Gamzatti and Solor. Many dancers play the Shades scene in a kind of remote trance -- not Cojocaru. She's ethereal in the way she seems to float through the mist, but when she gently touches Solor and raises her foot on pointe and arms in the air, we know she can forgive. Many Nikyas have probably danced the scarf duet or the Shades pas de deux with more security. I'm not sure many Nikyas have imbued so much heart into the steps.


The evening's Gamzatii, Misty Copeland, is not on Cojocaru's level either technically or dramatically, but their polar opposite approach somehow made the love triangle more understandable. Copeland projects a kind of hauteur that contrasted with Cojocaru's humility. Copeland's very upright, muscular upper body only highlighted Cojocaru's pliant, arching back and rippling arms. Copeland handled with demands of Gamzatti with varying success. Her fight scene with Nikya was exciting and well-acted on the parts of both the ladies. Copeland was also fairly graceful in the last act wedding. But in the grand betrothal pas de deux after completing some okay Italian fouettés she started to tilt to one side and chugged through a few fouettés. She stopped well before the musical cue to end. One thing Misty sorely lacked compared to the rest of the cast was a strong jump. In fact, she can barely jump at all. This was painfully apparent in the Grand Betrothal Scene as Herman soared and Copeland never got off the ground.

Herman Cornejo is another dancer whose career has been beset by injuries. It used to be a sort of running theme of an ABT season -- can Herman make it through without a huge injury? He still has a powerful jump -- his cabrioles in the Grand Betrothal variation and his ménage of double assemblés in the Shades scene both brought the house to loud cheers. What he's lost is flexibility -- yes he can get in the air, he can stay there, but his back and legs all seem rather stiff. It appears he can no longer do a split leap. His characterization of Solor was a bit brutish -- there's a lot of the warrior, maybe not enough of the lover. But still, Cornejo is another one of those dancers (like Cojocaru) who is tiny but dances huge, and who even after repeated injuries has more to offer than many dancers in their prime.

The soloist variations show how frustrating ABT can be -- talented soloists mixed with people who seem like they barely rehearsed. Joseph Gorak dancedthe often clichéd Bronze Idol variation with  rare elegance. The three shades were mixed -- Skylar Brandt was excellent in the first shade variation. Brandt also stood out in the Ratmansky Sleeping Beauty as the most charming of the fairies. Definitely one to watch. Great musicality, sailed across the stage. Stephanie Williams looked like she barely remembered the steps in the second variation. She is another one of those dancers who stops dancing way before the musical cue to stop dancing is over. Cassandra Trenary was not as crisp as Skylar Brandt in the third variation but she wasn't bad either.

The corps de ballet were okay. A few traffic jams in the Grand Betrothal Scene, some wobbly legs in the Shades scene. What the ABT corps always fails to do in the Shades scene is to add any kind of spiritual dimension to the famous sequence of arabesque/tendus down the ramp. Their arms don't go upwards, towards the heavens, the way the Mariinsky corps do. I guess I can't expect the same level of detail from the ABT corps but still, would it not hurt for them to try this pose?

Photo by Gene Schiavone. 
The audience was actually pretty star-studded. Spotted were former ABT greats Alessandra Ferri and Natalia Makarova. Crowd reaction (which can be pretty somnolent for Bayadere) was ecstatic -- Herman and Alina were called twice for curtain calls even after the house lights came one.

2 comments:

  1. I saw this same problem with Copeland's Gamzatti some seasons ago opposite Vasiliev.

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    1. I think it might be her hyper-extended knees. when she attempted to jump it looked floppy.

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