American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
May 24, 2012
By Carol Pardo
Copyright ©2012 by Carol Pardo
American Ballet Theatre’s spring seasons at the Metropolitan Opera House have long been the occasion to show off guest artists and principal dancers in tried and true full-evening ballets. If they are proven international stars, so much the better. This performance fulfilled those requirements. Nikiya was danced by guest artist Alina Cojocaru of London’s Royal Ballet, a veteran of Makarova’s production with her home company. Ivan Vasiliev, formerly of the Bolshoi, now of the Mikhailovsky Ballet Saint Petersburg, danced Solor at ABT for the first time. But these performances have also been notable for giving homegrown soloists a shot at Gamzatti, here, Misty Copeland, in her first performance of the role anywhere. Together they made this performance of “La Bayadère” a study in love, marriage and class.
From his first entrance, it was obvious that this Solor was deeply in love with his Nikiya, all his yearning on display in a simple tendu back as he stopped before the temple door that separated them. Cojocaru’s Nikiya was cool, chaste and distant when executing her duties. In response to the High Brahmin’s declaration of love, she made it very clear that a temple dancer was beneath his touch. When she raised her arms to heaven, all the moral force of God reinforced her refusal. Reunited with Solor, Nikiya thawed out and unbent. When Solor swore eternal love over the sacred fire, his inamorata didn’t just grab his hand to cut short his vow. Instead she slid her hand up his arm to lower it, and the spiritual gave way to the sensual. Their love and heat could set tragedy in motion. Copeland’s Gamzatti was the opposite: remote, well-mannered, very proud and anything but sentimental. Where Nikiya couldn’t have cared less whether she was marrying up as long as she was marrying Solor, Gamzatti was well aware of her value on the marriage mart, assessing both Solor’s portrait, then the man himself, and weighing what she got out of the deal. Her consequence, rather than her heart, was wounded by Solor’s betrayal. Solor sealed his lover’s fate by putting duty and the social hierarchy before love. He ran toward Nikiya after she was bitten by a snake only to find his way barred by the outstretched arm of his future father-in-law, making no effort to thrust that arm aside. Love was doomed. The shades scene read as Solor’s guilt-ridden dream, with Nikiya’s coolness and distance an expression of anger and reproach, emotions that were not erased by being reunited eternally in death. The final pose ended with Nikiya looking straight ahead, while Solor focused on her; usually she turns to him, their gazes locked for all time. Instead, Nikiya and Solor seem stuck in his dream, rather than happily reunited above the fray. If that’s the case, revenge has triumphed over love.
Perhaps the disjunction between the lead characters comes from in differences in style and experience. As Nikiya, Cojocaru is all line and long limbs (her arms seem longer than her partner’s). Vasiliev is a committed actor; you always know what his character is feeling and seeing. He’s possessed of a buoyant jump, at its best when it is unornamented; the one thing he doesn’t have is line. Misty Copeland did very well by the pure classical demands of Gamzatti, but her reaction to the chaos of the final act didn’t read. Was she horrified at being found out? Terrified? Did she suddenly realize that love outranked rank? Only time (and more performances) will tell if these three disparate artists can build on a thoroughly believable premise and make all of “La Bayadère” work as well, dramatically and logically, as the first act.