So, last night was my first Bayadere of the season and I have mixed feelings. Everyone danced perfectly beautifully, I finally got my big huge sweeping overhead lifts that Herman and Xiomara left out of their “Romeo and Juliet” on Monday night, or just “Romeo,” rather (thank you for those, David and Paloma and Gillian!), and all three aforementioned principals were just full of stunning virtuosity in their turns and leaps and partnering.
My main problem is with the, for lack of a better word, stylistics. This is a ballet set in historical Royal India and is the story of Nikiya, a bewitching temple dancer, (or bayadere) who is the object of infatuation of the High Brahmin but who falls hopelessly in love with Solor, a noble warrior whose war deeds have won him betrothal to the Radjah’s daughter. Paloma Herrera — the bayadere, as beautiful a ballerina as she is, completely lacked all of that gorgeous Indian or Middle-Eastern styling. Maybe it’s just that I’ve seen a lot of bellydancing lately, but I wanted so much for her to do something so much more with her wrists and arms, move her hips in a rounded, hula motion. I just wanted authenticity. At one point, I just wanted to get up and shout “wrists, wrists!” Indian and bellydancing is so amazingly beautiful, what those women do with their limbs and upper bodies, why couldn’t they have some of that here? Does ballet have to exist in this rarefied stratosphere where it can’t incorporate some of the sublime elements of other forms of dance? I mean, look at these gorgeous wrists here at Terpsichore Musings – and these are students!
This made me think of that now infamous article written by Lewis Segal for the LA Times. It was an overarching and pretty harsh criticism of Ballet in general, which I personally think was mainly a tongue-in-cheek effort to wake up the ballet world and get people thinking about why box office sales were dwindling, but I think one decent point he had was about the “Orientalist” ballets (click here for a definition of that term), of which Bayadere is one. I disagree with Segal that these ballets are too inherently goofily Orientalist to speak to young people today, who are much more worldly than previous audiences, because I think the themes they deal with — doomed love, class issues, fate and justice — are timeless, but I do think they need to be authenticated and updated. Dance being the essence of a ballet obviously (as opposed to a play), the ideal way to do that is to incorporate some of those beautiful Middle-Eastern movements. Perhaps the story-line needs to be made a little more sophisticated as well, and the costumes, such as those used in the ensemble “Kingdom of Shades” parts, pictured above (copyright Gene Schiavone) should be made more Indian-looking as well, but the movement is a start…
Jennifer Dunning reviewed the same female cast in the NY Times, here. Interestingly, she says, a bit critically, that these dancers exhibit what she calls a “21st Century” method of showing character more through movement than “acting.” Maybe that is what I was inadvertently reacting to when I saw the opposite at NYCB, which I characterized as overacting and melodramatic; perhaps I’m just a 21st Century dance-goer and am used to seeing more sublelty in the facial expressions and the drama located more in the movement than in traditional ballet “miming.” Dunning also said she liked Paloma’s back arches, but I’ve seen Latin dancers do far more pronounced ones.
The best part for me was David Hallberg as Solor. I just can’t say enough good things about him. He takes my breath away just with his walks alone, forget all of those amazing jumps (which he did plenty of); he can just walk all over the stage for an hour and I’ll sit there completely mesmerized. He’s so regal, so noble, such a beautiful man, and such a classic male ballet dancer. And he certainly doesn’t do any overacting. He also doesn’t make a big huge pompous stink when he comes onstage (and there’s NOTHING in my mind wrong with those who do, by the way — they’re some of my favorites of course of course — like this one, and that one, and of course him ); he’s “just” all about stellar, captivating dancing. I would go see anything he’s in just because he’s in it.