American Ballet Theatre 2000

September 29, 2000

American Ballet Theatre

Shanghai Grand Theater
Shanghai, China

September 29?October 1, 2000

Reviewed by Richard Ing

American Ballet Theatre?s performance of La Bayadère in Shanghai was historic on two counts: It was ABT?s China debut, and it took place on China?s fifty-first national holiday. The theater was filled and the performance strong, though not incredibly exciting at the premiere evening performance.

Natalia Makarova?s setting (after Petipa) of the ballet brought back nineteenth-century flavors of Orientalist motif. Architectural themes drawn from Western accounts of India came to life as arm gestures, elbows uplifted to the sides and palms facing the sky in sutra-like lines. Sand-, coffee- and sky blue-toned costumes completed visions of sandstone and arid surroundings. Movement, when choreographed into processionals copied from Asian bas-reliefs, created a story and view of the East that could be understood in terms of its history and still enjoyed.

Paloma Herrera was a little off as Nikiya; her pirouettes and piqué turns were sometimes over-rotated or slightly off balance, which affected her portrayal. Herrera seems to be a dancer for whom technique and character are intertwined. Sometimes she ignited technically, and with that fire you saw her doomed love for Solor. It is beautiful when character is expressed through technique itself, but it is also a risk.

Giuseppe Picone?s Solor was very strong; his jumps were works of art. His altitude allowed him great ballon, and he landed completely silent, poised and deadly accurate. Double sauts de Basque were spectacular, simple jetés, not just simple steps. He combined feline grace and heroic style?a difficult mix. The passion between Solor and Nikiya was weak in Act I but grew in Act II as Solor, in his opium stupor, imagined the Kingdom of the Shades.

The corps was at its best in Act II, defining the ballet?s atmosphere, and Act III?s candle dance was a real ritual of marriage. The closed figure eight the corps danced around Gamzati and Solor created a sense of ceremonial intimacy. The audience loved Joaquin de Luz?s bronze idol. Gamzati, danced by Oksana Konobeyeva, was solid, and her portrayal of Gamzati?s coldness was apt.

A strong corps, Picone?s Solor, sets and the Makarova setting made the performance solid. The first act, which serves mainly to pave the way for Act II, retained its time-honored weakness.

The Shanghai crowd whispered about the dancers, avidly pored over program notes, pulled out binoculars, and sat on the edges of their seats. Their involvement added a touch of offstage drama to a ballet classic.