The Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House,
5 April 2013
by Judith Cruickshank
copyright 2013 by Judith Cruickshank
Poor Petipa. Later choreographers’ works are guarded fiercely, every step and every gesture preserved. But no such respect is awarded to the choreographer responsible for the foundation stones of today’s classical repertory. He may indeed have been a “master of formal construction” as Professor Tim Scholl writes in his biographical programme note, but stagers of his ballets clearly feel free to add, subtract and adapt freely.
True, it was a long evening, especially for anyone who anyone who had to worry about homeward transport, and audiences today are used to much shorter programmes; although that can hardly be said to be the case for devotees of Wagner. And tastes have changed. Long passages of mimed action are no longer appreciated, or even understood. But in cutting it’s important to maintain the logic of the story and the contrast in the kinds of dances which Petipa arranged.
The Royal Ballet has now reached the 110th performance of Natalia Makarova’s production of ‘La Bayadere’ which, although probably the most widely staged, is far from being my first choice. Somehow it lacks grandeur, and too much has been cut. I don’t find her re-imagined final act at all convincing, and while Nureyev in his thrilling staging of the Kingdom of the Shades for the Royal Ballet could field a corps de ballet of 32 processing down two ramps why do we now have only 24 and a single, slight slope?
This first performance should have featured Alina Cojocaru as the heroine, but she is suffering from an injury to her foot and so was replaced by Roberta Marquez. A tiny dancer who shines in soubrette roles she’s an unusually sensuous Nikiya. But neither she, nor her Solor, Federico Bonelli, made a strong impression despite really elegant and expressive dancing on his part.
Gamzatti was Marianela Nuňez who will also dance Nikiya later in the run. Interestingly she showed a softer side in her confrontation with Nikiya. This princess loves Solor and tries to bribe her rival with jewels because she’s terrified of losing him. She’ll do whatever it takes to keep her man.
Virtuoso technique is a given with Nuňez, but what makes her interesting is the way she use it to express emotion. The classical dances in the betrothal scene become an expression of her feelings. A slow, measured descent from a balance seems to exemplify how she luxuriates in her moment of glory. She jumps easily and quite as high as her partner, finishing with a brilliant display of turns.
Elsewhere the dancing left something to be desired. Akane Takada and Fumi Kaneko showed promise in the first two variations in the Shades scene, but the corps de ballet was distinctly workaday. And more precision and togetherness would have been welcome in the pas d’action in the betrothal scene.
Johannes Stepanek made more of the tiny role of Solor’s nameless friend than could have been expected while, as the High Brahmin, Gary Avis ranged wondrously though the action his navel adorned with undoubtedly the largest ruby in the world.
Things weren’t helped by the orchestral playing. Minkus is no Tchaikovsky or even a Delibes, but his pretty waltzes deserve more care and consideration than Valeriy Ovsyanikov seemed prepared to give them. With the exception of Nunez it was altogether a dutiful and downbeat evening, and we must hope that things improve during the run.
Photo: Marianela Nunez as Gamzatti © ROH / Bill Cooper, 2009.