|| The Patriot Ledger
|| November 6, 2010
|| Iris Fanger
With the dancers dressed in elaborate costumes to complement the vibrant scenery of exotic India, “La Bayadere” is a spectacle delivered triumphantly by the Boston Ballet.
One of the great 19th-century works originally created for the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg by Marius Petipa, “La Bayadere” tells the ill-fated love story between a temple dancer, Nikiya, and a young warrior, Solor.
The real gem of this production is the corps de ballet of 24 women – or “shades” – who dance in the celebrated dream sequence that opens the final act. Dressed in all white (predating Petipa’s “Swan Lake” by 17 years) and moving in unison, the women descend a ramp in a long, slow series of backward bends, ending in deep arabesques. Every move is deliberate, every head tilt and leg lift is in perfect sync. It’s among the most glorious sights in ballet memory, requiring a corps de ballet that has been rigorously coached and rehearsed.
For that, the Boston Ballet called in Florence Clerc, former ballerina at the Paris Opera, to stage this version of “La Bayadere,” which replaces the production set in 2000 by former Boston Ballet artistic director Anna-Marie Holmes.
Despite the impressive showing by the principal dancers, one can only believe that Clerc spent most of her time coaching the women of the corps de ballet in that fiendishly difficult balancing act as they step down the ramp that zigzagged across the rear of the stage, to make sure that the unison formations remain perfect, not a step off beat, not a body too close to the next one, and each leg rising at the same height with its neighbor.
On Thursday night, the women delivered – big time. Otherwise, they appeared earlier in the ballet as various bayaderes (dancing girls of the Temple), odalisques and companions to the Princess, in the tradition of 19th-century ballet with its many variations. The men of the corps de ballet, banished from the final act except for Solor, are arranged in a series of fiery dances or military marches in the preceding acts.
This performance introduced company newcomer Lasha Khozashvili as Solor, a charismatic stage presence, shooting off multiple turns and high leaps. He was an especially strong partner to Nikiya, lifting her high above his head in lifts that had her resemble a swan or a goddess drawn on a wall frieze.
The lovely Lia Cirio, one of the most accomplished actress-dancers in the company, portrayed a meltingly pliant Nikiya, molding herself into Solor’s body in the first act pas de deux, later turning solidly on one toe in the famed scarf pas de deux of the white scene, having only the floating piece of cloth for support.
Kathleen Breen Combes made Gamzatti into a Valley Girl Princess, determined to have her way.
The character roles helped move the story along: Bo Busby as an eerie High Brahmin; Boston Ballet veteran Arthur Leeth as the imperious Rajah; Altan Dugaraa, the crazed fakir, servant to Solor; and the newest soloist to join the company, Joseph Gatti, as the Golden Idol.
The three soloists in the white scene – Misa Kuranaga, Adiarys Almeida (another newbie from Cuba), and Whitney Jensen – were marvels of classically technical precision. (Watch for Kuranaga and Jensen in principal roles later in the ballet’s run.)