June 1, 2014
Characters in exotic lands whip up a storm of drama between royalty and servants, warriors and temple dancers in American Ballet Theater’s La Bayadere. Dressed in harem style pants and bejeweled halters, the temple dancers frame the action centered on the great warrior Solar (guest star Vladimir Shklyarov), his secret love Nikiya, the temple dancer (Polina Semionova) and the powerful Radjah’s daughter, Gamzatti (Hee Seo). To complicate matters, the feared High Brahmin (Victor Barbee) favors Nikiya, unsuccessfully vying for her hand.
Delicate and vulnerable, Semionova hovers weightlessly over her poignant arabesques and apprehensive spins until she falls into the arms of her love, Shklyarov. There, Semionova and Shklyarov embrace in amorous duets. Well matched as a pair, Shklyarov has a fine classical form, and clean, long leaps that fan across the stage. Some hard landings did not detract from his solidly dramatic performance. In contrast, Hee Seo, a capable technician, is not a convincing, haughty, lady of privilege.
Determined to marry Solar, she confronts Nikyia, but her anger remains muted. Intent on ending this carnival of mismatched lovemaking, The High Brahmin hides a deadly snake in Nikiya’s basket during her command performance for the betrothed Solor and Gamzatti. Gliding effortless in her bourees, softly curved arms and torso add to the image of vulnerability and when she pulls the snake out of the basket, it sticks to her neck like a leech. (Well, she’s holding it to her neck, but it was pretty gruesome).
After intermission, Solar consoles himself in a haze of opium and imagines his reunion with Nikiya in the Kingdom of the Shades. Dancers in all white tutus, stream down the mountainside in a repetition of legs lifting and stepping forward in a mesmerizing procession. Many think this repetitive passage is about as a post modern as ballet gets. Semionova and Shklyarov ease through the complex simplicities of the sequences conceived and directed by Natalia Makarova. In secondary roles, Sarah Lane and Misty Copeland are animated Shades and Craig Salstein adds melodrama to his role of The Bronze Idol.
EYE ON THE ARTS, Y -- Celia Ipiotis