Veronika's Beautiful Pathos, Diana's Passionate Abandon, Marcelo's "Every Guy" hero, and Ethan's need to join overactors anonymous: My Bayadere Roundup

Crappy picture of Marcelo Gomes and Veronika Part mid-bow after ABT‘s Friday night performance of Bayadere at the Met.

Uh, I meant to blog about this so much earlier but had to get a brief in today so my supervisor wouldn’t murder me.

Anyway, I finished my Bayadere viewings on Saturday night. I was toying with trying to go tonight to see the legendary Nina Ananiashvili perform the lead, but I just have too many things to do in preparation for my upcoming trip to Blackpool and just couldn’t swing it. So if anyone goes tonight, please let me know how it went!

So, the casts I saw were: 1) Paloma Herrera, David Hallberg, and Gillian Murphy as, respectively, the temple dancer (Bayadere), Solor the warrior, and the princess Gamzatti, which I blogged about in my earlier post (and if you’re not familiar with the ballet, please go there for my description of the characters and story); 2) Veronika Part, Marcelo Gomes, and Michele Wiles in those same parts; and 3) — probably the most chi chi “famous people cast”: the critically acclaimed Met Goddess Diana Vishneva, “Center Stage” heartthrob Ethan Stiefel, and Stella Abrera.

So, I have a couple of thoughts that kind of border on the sacriligious :) The first is that, I thought long and hard about it, and … I actually preferred Veronika over Diana as the Bayadere!!! Diana was beautiful and she made gorgeous lines and had, as Susan had commented on my last post, more of the authentic, Indian-looking styling with the more beautifully expressive wrists and exotic, sinuous arm movements and flexible back arches than the others (though Veronika I think had all that as well, but not as pronounced). She is also known for, both literally and figuratively, throwing herself into her roles with such abandon that she sometimes makes too hasty of a stage exit that she trips and falls, or to show her character’s misery, she’ll throw herself down on the floor with so much passion that she’ll come up a bit bruised and bloodied. I can see why. She was so heavily in character, that when something upset her and her bayadere needed to flee the stage, she really did fly up those back stairs or into the wings, running at full speed. I found this made for very passionate dancing fully in-character, but to me this also made her bayadere seem a bit immature.

Veronika was the opposite — a very mature bayadere sadly accepting of her fate. She brought me so fully into her world, I nearly cried for her. She was not at all melodramatic, but held her deep sorrow inside, showing it subtilely through closed eyes — to me all the more powerful than running at full speed into the wings. And she is such a tall, beautifully statuesque ballerina with such exquisitely elongated lines, as Delirium said to me, she just “devours the stage.” Perhaps because of her larger bone structure, she may not have the ability to make the same intricate poses with her hands and wrists as Diana, which, ironically, is what I was complaining about in my former Bayadere post. But she was overall such a beautiful dancer who brought me so completely into her world anyway that that styling “authenticity” didn’t matter. I will most definitely be watching for more of her. And, I’ll be seeing several more of Diana’s performances as well; I’m sure I’ll see more of what makes people so enamored of her in the weeks to come.

Regarding Paloma’s performance in the role, I love her in general but didn’t think she really inhabited this part very well. But I think she rocks as the fun, flirty Kitri in Don Quixote! Former New York Times chief dance critic John Rockwell had suggested that ABT and the other big dance companies be more “star” driven, and, like the Met Opera, alternate ballets on a daily rather than weekly basis so that one or two dancers could “star” in a certain role without getting tired. I think this is a very worthy idea, especially since, with my upcoming trip, I’m only going to have the opportunity to see one Othello, a couple of Sleeping Beauties, and am going to have to miss entirely the Dream / Symphonie Concertante mixed rep, which disappoints me because David is debuting in that. That if a person goes away for a week they miss an entire program, combined with the fact that certain dancers excel in certain roles, I think Kevin McKenzie should take seriously Rockwell’s proposal…

Now, on to the MEN OF ABT, my very favorite people :)

Oh, and now I am going to have to recant what I said above because, the men of ABT are so great, I just want to see ALL of them in every role… As I said in my earlier post, David can virtually do no wrong in my eyes… it’s so interesting to me because he and Marcelo perform just about all of the same roles and there couldn’t be two more different dancers; you just get a completely different character depending on which one is performing that night. David’s Solor, as all of David’s characters are naturally more sensitive, more vulnerable, more cerebral, more pensive, whereas Marcelo’s characters are warm-hearted, down-to-earth, the every-guy. Marcelo’s the guy you want as your boyfriend: fun-loving, always happy, dependable, a big fuzzy teddybear in a way (I hope that’s not offensive :) ) — I know, everyone says he’s a really good bad guy, and he is, but I think that’s because he’s never really THAT evil; deep down he’s just Marcelo :) And David is the male friend who you just wanna talk to all night long :) I love seeing them both — it’s just when David’s up there on the stage, you’re going to get the noble, poetic, sensitive warrior / Prince Charming / Romeo; with Marcelo it’ll be the everyman, old familiar high-school boyfriend, all-American boy (even though he’s not) version of the same. Funny, beginning tomorrow night, they are both alternating as Othello, and Art had mentioned in a comment on an earlier post that when he saw that ballet Othello tended to come across as a big brutish rather brainless hulk. There’s simply no way either of these two are going to play it that way, even if they tried!

So, I said I had two sacriligious thoughts about Bayadere. First is my preference for Veronika over Diana, and my second is that … I must confess, I just don’t get Ethan’s appeal! I just don’t — isn’t it horrible! Of course I haven’t yet seen “Center Stage.” I mean, yes, his jumps were spectacular, and I’ve never seen anyone beat his feet together as many times as he during his super-high assembles. You’d NEVER know he was just coming back from double knee surgery. As I mentioned in this post’s title, I thought he overacted, which Jennifer Dunning of the Times recognized as well, so I’m not alone on that! He does this thing where he widens his eyes when he’s freaking out over something. Well, I could see those bulging eyes from the Dress Circle (mid-priced seats about half-way up to the ceiling for people unfamiliar with the Met) sans binoculars. And the throwing the arms to the ceiling thing: can everyone stop, PLEASE!!!! Okay, Marcelo did it a bit too, but he is Marcelo and I’m so infatuated he could do cartwheels across the stage and I’d be all, “oh isn’t that the greatest!” Ethan’s jumps were truly breathtaking though, as I said. And I’m sure once I see “Center Stage” I’ll completely understand the madness :)

Other thoughts: I liked all three ballerinas who performed the role of Gamzatti (the princess betrothed to the bayadere’s love-interest). Stella was splendidly bitchy — she was plotting and evil and nasty and all the things that I guess a good Gamzatti should be. Michele Wiles seemed more like the snooty rich spoiled white girl, which worked as well. And Gillian was the most interesting princess to me because she has such a natural sweetness; just look at that headshot! How could this girl ever be wicked! She was like Glinda the Good Witch Gamzatti, which worked in its own way because her princess was more an unfortunate victim of circumstance than an evil, plotting shrew.

I LOVED Craig Salstein as the lead fakir (in the ballet, the fakirs are these weirdly cute loinclothed animal-like people who jump wildly back and forth over this makeshift campfire — really so much fun and one of the most entertaining parts of the first Act, IMO). Who better than Craig to do all that crazy wild jumping. Craig performed the part on Saturday night; on Friday night, equally bedazzled, I looked in my Playbill and was shocked to see it was Jared Matthews under all the wild-man hair and body paint… he’s so sweet-looking and seemingly well-behaved — who knew he was so capable :) Expectedly, Herman Cornejo was an excellent Bronze Idol, another male bravura part (which, for some strange reason I keep wanting to call the Bronze God), but so were the others, such as Arron Scott (who also happens to be Matt’s new cohort in crime). I find myself always disappointed by the idol though because he’s only onstage so briefly; he leaves me wanting so much more…

One last thought: Susan’s comment in my last Bayadere post suggesting that Matthew Bourne or Mark Morris re-make an authentic Bayadere made me think … what about a male Bayadere ala Bourne’s Romeo Romeo? Not all male: a male Gamzatti would make for a completely alternate universe, but just a male bayadere would be realistically intriguingly different — I’m sure some Radjas had male temple dancers after all…

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13 Responses to Veronika's Beautiful Pathos, Diana's Passionate Abandon, Marcelo's "Every Guy" hero, and Ethan's need to join overactors anonymous: My Bayadere Roundup

  1. Yay! I’m so glad you loved Veronika!
    Are you going to see her SL? if not, PLEASE do!
    soooo good! Nina’s odile is better. No question. Her fouettes defy belief…nothing flashy. just fast and CLEAN. I only saw Part once, and she got through them w/o difficulty, but its not a strength (see below), but her white swan is heartbreaking in a way I’d never seen before.

    As far as tonight–well. I posted about it on ballettalk but i kind of thought Carreno was horrible. Not in his solos, but his partnering was so labored…it looked like he was struggling and out of shape. Nina was good, but not Nina–her arabesques were low and with a bent leg(?!), she flubbed the arabesque turns with the scarf (and she is a spectacular turner, which Part is not). I mean when gomes lifts Veronika (TALL!!) as if she weighs nothing, and carreno struggles to get Nina (TINY!) up in the air, thats a bit scary. And disappointing.

    On the upside. Irina looked FABULOUS as Gamzatti. I much prefered her to WIles. So imperious, and yet you got the sense she too really loved Solor.

    same cast for the bronze idol. which was too bad. I thought Lopez was very good but I would have liked to see someone else.

  2. jennifer says:

    on monday night, veronika was one of the shades…and i also had the same thought you had; i wished veronika and nina had switched parts! even though she was only onstage for a brief period, veronika was breathtaking.

  3. M says:

    Nice review tonya. Your disection of Marcelo and David cracks me up :-) (I don’t mean that disrespectfully at all.) I wonder how everyone wrould react to the rotating ballets night by night. My guess is that it would be more of a tech nightmare than anything else but even for the dancers in the corps it might help spice things up more regularly.

    I’m going out of town for two weeks so I am sad at the scheduling because this means I’ll miss David’s dream debut which is a bummer. I’ll only just make it back for the last Beauty!

  4. tonya says:

    I’m glad I amused you, M — I figured I would since of course I don’t know them at all (just the sense of get from their stage presence :) ) Don’t tell Marcelo I called him a big teddy bear, especially before Othello… I didn’t know you were going out of town?

    Delirium, I felt the same thing about Jose when I saw him in Sinatra Suites last fall. His partnering seemed really labored. I heard he had had some back problems so I can imagine that would make lifts really difficult. I hope he isn’t getting tired and slowing down… I have one ticket right now for SL, but offhand don’t know which ballerina is dancing the lead; if it’s not Veronika, I’ll definitely try to get a ticket to see her!

  5. Chimene says:

    Hi Tonya,

    First, here is the link to Joaquin Cortez’s appearance on DWTS. Second, I don’t like Ethan Stiefel for his acting per se, although he was credible in “Center Stage/CS,” he’s just an incredibly fine dancer with beautiful legs and feet. If you freeze/pause him dancing the finale in “CS”, his body is always in a straight line. David Hallberg looks completely different from Ethan, but he, too, creates a beautiful line w/his arched feet when he dances. Both are light on there feet, too. David looked great as Romeo b/c when he gets into certain positions, his long legs and arms just make him look so good and very different than Herman or Angel. Ethan is freakin’ sexy as hell and cool, but you would have to watch Center Stage, read an interview with him or listen to him talk about ballet to get this impression of him. In real-life, you’d probably be half in love with the guy. There is nothing effeminant about him; he’s just an all American guy. In “CS” Julie Kent did an outstanding acting job and was so natural.

    Now with Angel, Herman and Marcelo, I think it is some sort of Latin thing that they have going on. None of them is alike but they all exude such passion that seems so natural to them and is very down to earth. I loved meeting Angel, who is the sweetest guy, and Herman. Those two just treated me like I was this beautiful and important person, and they did the same for everyone else, too. Come to thing of it, Carmen, Xiomara and Paloma were really sweet like that, too. It definitely has to be a cultural thing where they just embrace people naturally. Matt, David, Julie, Gillian and various caucasion corps members were all nice enough but were not open and embracing the way the Latin dancers were; instead, they were friendly but decidedly reserved. This reservation is what separate their artistry (less down to earth and more ethereal) for me from the Latin dancers (down to earth, passionate, realistic) in R&J specifically. I’m only referring to R&J. I loved Marcelo as Rothbart in Swan Lake for the exact same reasons; he had a human quality or vulnerability to his badness. Okay, enough said.

    Best

  6. M says:

    Yes decided to go home for a few weeks to recover with the aid of mom, dad and doggy :-) I think it’s best that I get out of the city for a bit now that Met has started and I’m still feeling so gross.

    It’s always fun hearing descriptions of people you know and seeing how they are percieved by others.

  7. Susan says:

    “She brought me so fully into her world, I nearly cried for her ” – welcome to the magical world of Veronika Part. She will never have the technique of a Murphy or a Bouder but then they will never have her line and she has her own very special gifts. I hope and pray that she is able to master the Rose Adagio, that her Aurora conquers NY and that ABT promotes her immediately following the premiere, but the sad truth is that she really shouldn’t need to conquer Aurora to earn her promotion. She has already shown the world what a unique artist she is, and I think all this pressure to succeed in such a technically demanding role is crazy. Her Nikiya, Raymonda, Odette – these alone qualify her as a first class ballerina, and there are so many other roles I can see her in (La Sylphide, Ondine etc). If you loved her Nikiya you MUST see her & Gomes in Swan Lake, their chemistry in that ballet is already legendary. Although I don’t find Marcelo’s Siegfried teddy bearish- he & Veronika generate more heat than I ever recall seeing in another Swan Lake.

    I love your idea of alternating ballets night by night – I hate the block programming but I guess it makes sense for them economically and that seems to be the bottom line for ABT at this point (thus the need to strip Sleeping Beauty of the last act divertissements, eviscerate the last act of Swan lake etc). Not all ballet companies use block programing – when I was in Vienna I noticed that they mix it up with performances of each ballet staggered through out the season and alternating with Opera. So, if I had more time and money I could have seen their Swan Lake, Onegin (ballet) and Netrebko singing Manon all in one weekend! Maybe this type of programming is more typical of a company like the one in Vienna that alternates with the Opera night by night, instead of ballet season following Opera season. I also wish ABT would change their policy of having every principal dancer dancing every role (or at least most of them dancing most roles). Just as I think Aurora isn’t an ideal role for Part, I also think many of ABT’s other ballerinas are forced into roles that aren’t ideal for them.

    And regarding a remake – Solor with a male Bayadere/female Gamzetti was exactly what I was thinking about – but I’d like to see that from Bourne or Morris – not from ABT. I really like their Bayadere the way it is :)

  8. Chimene says:

    I thought I would open up a discussion on Gillian Murphy. I’m a proud member of the “I luv Gillian Murphy Fan Club” for pointe magazine’s msg bd. Lot’s of different fans have said that she leaves them cold, but everyone agrees that the lady can dance. Personally, having met the girl for 2 different autographs and 2 pictures, I’m left with the impression that she may have an introvert-type personality, which I have, also. Introverted people derive their energy primarily internally, and we don’t necessarily get that same energy from hanging out with other people. In fact, too much stimulation from other people can wear out someone with this personality even though they like people. I am a perfect example of this. Introverts tend to form close intimate relationships with only a few people. Extroverts on the otherhand feed off of other people, who give them energy, have tons more friends, seem more outgoing and are bored being alone for too long; about 75% of the world’s population is extroverted so America is built with extroverts in mind. INtroverts are gifted people but often misunderstood through the eyes of the extrovert.

    Gillian is so magnificent and powerful and beautiful by herself that she doesn’t really need other dancers with her on stage except to partner her or to briefly interact with as was the case with R&J and Swan Lake. For me, she is breathtaking b/c I so relate to her inner strength. That chick is physically strong; she almost wrestled my ABT photo book right out of my hands b/c she didn’t want me to smudge her signature. It was a sweet gesture, but it took a while for me to realize that that’s why she kept tugging on the book. She just looked at me with these wise eyes without saying a word until it clicked what was happening. Introverts have that kind of power and intuition. She never really spoke, she just kind of keenly watched me the same way I wanted to just stare at her. That is how I feel about her on stage; I just want to stare and get absorbed into her world. To many people, she appears withdrawn and cold, but I can assure you she isn’t, and I just intuitively know this about her. Her strength and beauty lies below the surface but shines out in her dancing. That is why she is my favorite Swan and Juliet; however, having said this, I do not know how will her artistic quality translates across the variety of roles that ABT dances. One of the problems I’ve seen with most ballet companies is putting certain dancers who have weaknesses into roles that do not seem suitable for them. Gillian has no visible weaknesses in her dancing, she’s a virtuoso, but I don’t know how her acting is b/c I’m too blinded by her body to pay attention to it.

  9. jennifer says:

    i read somewhere that someone thought veronika was fat (sorry so vague but it was a while ago)…i was so horrified!!! i’m so glad to be somewhere where veronika’s talents are appreciated :) i hadn’t really seen her dance before so i was surprised at how she stood out in bayadere yesterday.

  10. Jennifer,

    she used to be heavier. She’s gotten thinner and thinner the last few seasons. Personally I thought her weight looked fabulous 2 years ago. However given the dearth of strong tall men at ABT, her weight loss is probably wise given her height.
    It makes her more marketable–or at least more partnerable. ABTs men are just not very tall on the whole, and those who are, like David are both overworked already, and still need (sorry David) to build up strength a bit.

    See her Swan Lake!!

  11. tonya says:

    Thanks so much for finding that YouTube Chimene!!! It’s funny because I’ve always thought Gillian seemed so sweet; I don’t read the message boards very often but I’m surprised that people think she’s cold and distant! I’ve never thought that of her. But I guess I am also rather shy and introverted, so I understand and appreciate that personality-type well! It’s also interesting what you say about how you found the different dancers to be when you met them. In ballroom, the Latin men are very popular I think since they’re so warm, they really take care of you on the dance floor. The others, in particular the Russians, are excellent dancers, but the Latin men are just so there for you and so comfortable to dance with. I remember Susan Jaffee saying Jose Carreno was the perfect partner — “he’s so grounded, and he’s such a guy,” such a strong support she said :) Jose!

    That’s funny about Veronika, you guys — I mean, I think she’s tall and large-boned, kind of like Marcelo, but I didn’t see an ounce of fat on her! But I didn’t know she had lost weight either…

  12. Chimene says:

    Actually, Tonya, many of your commentors have said Gillian left them cold, which I don’t take any offense to. Ballet evokes feeling be they positive, negative or indifferent. I didn’t feel anything from her as an Odalisque in Le Corsaire either and couldn’t understand why all the fuss about her. I soon realized myself why she is so sensational a dancer. Who needs to act when your dancing is beyond reproach (just kidding), but, seriously, I thought she captured the essence of both Juliet and Odette/Odile impeccably but those are only 3 roles.