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Bolshoi Ballet

'La Bayadère'

by Toba Singer

June 6, 2009 - Zellerbach Auditorium, Berkeley, California

Ballistic energy, shimmering dancers, brilliant costumes, artful sets and virtuoso spirit lifted the Yuri Grigorovich version of Marius Petipa’s “La Bayadère” out of its choreographic puzzlements up into the stratum of highly entertaining dance theatre.

Headliners were dancers whose reputations have reached us long before they have: Svetlana Zakharova as Nikiya, bayadère; Ekaterina Krysanova as Gamzatti; Nikolay Tsiskaridze as Solor and Ivan Vasiliev as the Golden Idol. They opened their capacities to the Berkeley audience as if they were a diamond cutter’s set of glistening tools.   Framed by a synchronous corps de ballet who breathed as one, their tableaux enthralled us.

Zakharova, in particular, offered a performance to which she dedicated every corporeal resource and an entire repertoire of treasures from her inner life. The detailed articulation of her role began with her feet.  They look and act like most people’s hands in their deftness. To maintain such unwavering control and at the same time send out meta-messages about how every plot twist more precisely sculpts your character is the special feature of Zakarova’s dancing that is her siren song.

Krysanova’s Gamzatti was a crowd pleaser as well. Her spitfire piqué turns showed this First Soloist at her technical best.  Her strongest quality is her zest for the challenges.  The two women are worthy rivals, but when we see Solor, danced by Tsiskaridze, we must ask ourselves whether he is worthy of either of them.  Tsiskaridze is a well-trained technician and when he dances with Zakarova, they are like an etching that has come alive against a sumptuous backdrop in mustard hues.  Zakharova’s neck seems to stretch beyond its limits in the pas de deux and once again, no body part languishes.  By contrast, Tsiskaridze dances a bit indifferently, offering a polite smile that has no discernible voice under it and little connection to the plot.

Just as one scrutinizes the Rose Adagio in “Sleeping Beauty,” one can’t help but compare the Fakirs (no tambourines), the Jug Dance (short on risk taking comedy) or the few(er) steps taken by the Shades to, for example what I am told is the Makarova version.  The placement of the Golden Idol in the second act seemed arbitrary. Surrounding the shining Vasiliev with child students doing a distracting fan dance that mostly consisted of precipité hat dance-type steps felt very distracting and out of place.  The scarf dance was marked by its plainness compared to the lushness of the sets and costumes, and came before, not at, the ballet’s end. The scarf itself was relatively abbreviated, and there was not that surfeit of dancing required to send it the distance one has been led by other versions to expect.

Perhaps most disappointing was the choreography for the Shades. No posé-penchée followed the arabesque in profile and instead of a full cambré back, we got a port de bras écarté where arms went to high second.  Solor didn’t seem overly put out about the way things turned out in the end: Gamzatti becoming his bride and Nikiya dying of a snakebite.

Overall, it was a performance spiced by full-out brilliant dancing that was unnecessarily limited in its heft by an abortive version of the story.

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