A Tale of Two Nikiyas
At American Ballet Theatre’s La Bayadère on Tuesday evening, Veronika Part gave a performance of Nikiya for the ages. She articulated her luxuriously arched feet with clarity and purpose. Her port de bras was expansive and expressive: Part has a wonderful way of using her elbows when moving from one position to another, gathering the air around her or slowly letting it dissipate, filling every second of the music. She didn’t push the Act I solo, in which some ballerinas really exaggerate the arched positions, and her natural sense of line and unshowy quality fully revealed Nikiya’s spiritual side. Her confidence, which sometimes wavers, was rock solid—probably helped by the fact that her Solor, Marcelo Gomes, was completely there for her emotionally and physically. (I’ve seen him dance with Julie Kent, Diana Vishneva, and Part in the last week or so, and he simply makes every ballerina look her best. He brings the whole stage to life with his very presence.) And Gillian Murphy was a fabulous Gamzatti. It’s always a delight to watch a dancer with no technical limits just play onstage. Her famous pirouettes will never cease to amaze me.
Last night, we saw three New York debuts in the same ballet: soloist Hee Seo as Nikiya, Vadim Muntagirov, a guest artist from the English National Ballet, as Solor, and soloist Isabella Boylston as Gamzatti. The three dancers were under a considerable amount of pressure, and given the circumstance, they turned out impressive performances. There is still a lot of room for growth—I’ve seen both women outdance others onstage when they’re supposed to be jumping a uniform height, or in concert with other dancers while sustaining a balance, and I was expecting more of that quality last night. But there’s no question that Seo, especially in her Act II solo, has all the makings of a principal dancer. Her line, the way she balances graceful fluidity with complete determination—steel on the bottom, chiffon on the top, as one of my ballet teachers used to say—can be breathtaking. She needs time and more experience, and I hope that she will earn more opportunities for these high-stakes debuts. Her Tatiana to David Hallberg’s Onegin on June 9th will be exciting—Seo trained at the Cranko school, and I think that she and Hallberg are physically a beautiful match.
There are five more great casts of Bayadères to see this week, including another performance by Part and Gomes on Friday, with Natalia Osipova as Gamzatti. Murphy will perform Nikiya with guest Denis Matvienko, who recently left the Maryinsky, on Saturday afternoon, while Seo takes over as Gamzatti Saturday evening. And there are two other big debuts happening: soloist Misty Copeland dances Gamzatti tonight, and Herman Cornejo will perform Solor, which he’s called his dream role, on Monday evening to guest Alina Cojocaru’s Nikiya. —Kina Poon