Saturday, November 2, 2013

A big, beautiful La Bayadère

Lasha Khozashvili does know how to make an entrance.  Photos: Gene Schiavone.

La Bayadère is the ballet pageant to end all ballet pageants.  Which may be both its great strength - and great weakness.  Indeed, you could argue it has slowly been eclipsed by the other grand ballets from its period - despite the foundation of a tempestuous soap-opera plot and some exquisite choreography - because it's such a long parade (even its most ravishing sequence, the entrance of the corps to the Kingdom of Shades, is essentially a procession).

The version at Boston Ballet (previously mounted in 2010, and now through this weekend only at the Opera House) was adapted by Florence Clerc, and trims the fourth act from Petipa's original - although to be honest, that lost finale does at least wrap up the plot with a vengeance, and Clerc has kept most, if not all, of the many intervening divertissements - some of which begin to feel like almost too much of a good thing.  (Partly because a few of the hootenannies by assorted "natives" can sometimes look like outtakes from King Kong.)

Still, Bayadère does eventually get down to business, and then it's gripping.  Opening night boasted a dazzling cast, lavish sets and sparklingly refurbished costumes (both by Sergiy Spevyakin), and even a pachyderm on wheels (above).  Lia Cirio once more essayed the doomed Hindu temple dancer Nikiya, who falls hard for hunky huntsman Solor (Lasha Kozashvili, who, if memory serves, has also played this role before).  Alas, the Rajah has Solor in mind for his daughter Gamzatti (Dusty Button), who, after a jealous clash with Nikiya, sees to it that her rival winds up at the wrong end of a viper. Of course that's not the end of poor Nikiya - this is a story ballet, after all, so there's a supernatural coda in which the guilty Solor, in a dream state, envisions himself dancing with his beloved in heaven (and perhaps literally following her there at the curtain).

As Nikiya, Cirio was, as ever, technically perfect - but somehow there was little vulnerability in her glorious extensions; I adore this ballerina in cool, contemporary work, but there's little of the natural victim about her, and she has yet to break my heart as a story-ballet heroine.  Khozashvili, for his part, came off as pleasingly charismatic and commanding as Solor, a role that's heavy with the high leaps he's known for. And he sailed through a series of them in astoundingly calm style, throwing off gently-beating double cabrioles at will.

Khozashvili and Lia Cirio re-unite in the Kingdom of Shades.

The show was almost stolen right out from under this accomplished pair, however, by up-and-comer Dusty Button, who may have the moniker of a country-western singer, but nevertheless boasts the dance and drama chops of a true star.  Indeed, her turn as Gamzatti was not only technically perfect, but so stricken with betrayed glamour that briefly the ballet seemed her tragedy rather than Nikiya's. Other stand-outs on opening night included Jeffrey Cirio, an established charmer who shone fiercely in the cameo of the Golden Idol (see masthead) - a determined frown plastered over his usual smile - and Dalay Parrondo and Paul Craig, another pair rising through the ranks who also rose above the silliness of the pounding "Indian" dance.  My eye was also caught by Altan Dugaraa, who danced the lead fakir with headlong sincerity, and Rie Ichikawa, who brought a delightful delicacy to the water-jug dance.

But any production of La Bayadère is judged by the famous entrance of the corps into the Kingdom of Shades; and I must report that this slow procession of dreamy arabesques (executed on a sloping ramp, no less) was close to perfection. I raved earlier this season about the corps for their exquisite performance of Serenade in the Ballet's Night of Stars.  (That, too, was perfect - I know, I'm using that word a lot.)  They clearly are carrying on with the same unbelievable level of focus and commitment - and that alone made this Bayadère memorable.

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