Best Night Yet at the Met!

Last night’s La Bayadere was ABT‘s best night at the Met yet. They had the largest, most enthusiastic audience, many of whom seemed to be Marcelo fans! He got lots of ‘bravos’ and huge applause throughout, and he sensed early on the crowd was really with him so he kind of took it over the top with the enormous jetes and those interesting running-in-the-air jumps, whatever they’re called. I thought he may throw his back out after he landed a tour jete on one knee and dramatically arched back, his fingers gracing the ground behind him. And when he lands a jete it’s almost earth-shattering because of his size. But of course those huge leaps fit in with the role too since his character here is a warrior. It’s funny; it was like he was on a mission to really deliver – -it seemed his dancing was even fuller-bodied and more theatrical than usual. He’s always my favorite no matter :)

Dancers are definitely very sensitive to how the crowd is reacting to what they’re doing — or at least Marcelo and Angel are, which is probably why I like them so. You can read their feelings all over their faces. Or at least you can if you kind of “know” them from seeing them so many times.

And Veronika Part really owns this role. Her expressive wrists, those luscious developes of which she is the queen (lift of the leg at the knee, then slowly unfolding to a full extension), and her gorgeously almost tragically poetic arabesques (back leg lifted). Oh, by the way, Bayadere is set in ancient India, and tells the story of Solor the warrior who falls in love with a temple dancer, Nikiya, but is betrothed to the princess Gamzatti. Veronika (as Nikiya) got loads of applause during her solo curtain calls at the very end of course. This is how the ballet should always be; the crowd going nuts like that.

But Marcelo and Veronika weren’t just great on their own; they were a perfect partnership as well, which to me is really everything, more important than the solo dancing. I really believed they were hopelessly, tragically in love. She was so forlorn, I wanted to cry for her when it was clear she wasn’t going to get her love. And Marcelo as always was the perfect actor, making perfectly clear how truly torn he was between his beloved and his betrothed, especially after the latter’s sexy, seductive whipping fouette sequence, and then how distraught he was on realizing he was in love with Nikiya but had to marry the princess.

Of course this ballet is so beautiful, many come regardless of who’s dancing, just for the story and the poetry of the choreography, particularly the breathtaking Kingdom of the Shades scene (which at first I have to admit I wasn’t so fond of because it’s so slow and there are few men :) ) but has really grown on me with its beauty. This is the part of the ballet where Solor sleeps and dreams of his Nikiya, whose image floods his subconsious by suddenly duplicating itself many many times over, as illustrated by a series of ballerinas all in white, emanating from the mountainside traveling forward in a pattern of lovely arabesques, then taking center stage and bourreeing in place, all in perfect sync, in perfect harmony, reminiscient of a spirit-world, and foreshadowing that this is the only place Solor and Nikiya will be together.

(all photos by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of ABT)

Finally, Michele Wiles was PERFECT as the princess Gamzatti. Throughout the first two acts she was icy cold bitchiness, which to me, she’s thus far excelled at. Critic Joan Acocella once referred to her as a sunny cheerleader type, but I’ve never seen that in her. I see her more as the spoiled rich girl who will have her way at all costs. She was pure golden-dressed evil when she puts the snake in Nikiya’s bouquet, basically casting a spell on her. Yet, when it’s clear Marcelo’s Solor is in love with Nikiya and is only going through the marriage because he must, you really start to feel sorry for Michele’s princess. She tries hard to maintain her power, but she can’t. She found the vulnerability in the character and made her sympathetic and that’s what makes this a true tragedy — for all.

It was also just such a great night because there were so many people there. I finally got to meet James Wolcott from Vanity Fair, and his wife Laura Jacobs who writes about dance for the New Criterion (and whose book I keep going on about — she writes so beautifully about dance)! I suspected they’d be there because they love Veronika so. I’m so shy, I always feel like such an oaf meeting famous people :) But they’re really nice and it was so cool to finally meet them!

Philip was there too and we hung out during first intermission, with friends and blog readers Susan and Philip’s opera buddy (whose name I keep forgetting…)

Great ballet, favorite dancers, very fun audience, meeting famous writers you admire, chatting with old friends — excellent night all around! I am happy.

13 Comments

  1. Wow, That was some performance. I am going tomorrow… let’s see what they dish up. It looks like Veronika might be staying at the ABT and I think she should be made principal. She’s got lots of fans out here.

  2. Well you’ve really whet my appetite, Tonya. I’m seeing the same cast at the Sat matinee and can’t wait! It will be my first full length Marcelo this season having only seen him as VonRothbart so far. I wasn’t crazy about V. Part with David in Swan Lake but she grew on me as the Lilac Fairy last Sat. so I’m really looking forward to seeing more of her. Hope she does end up staying with ABT – as principal?

  3. Do tell us about the funny run in with Angel!

    I agree with you about MIchele Wiles – I’ve never seen her as a sunny cheerleader type. When I saw her as Myrta in Giselle, she fit that cold exterior very well.

    Sounds like a great performance!! Wish I was there – I’ve been going through ballet withdrawal lately with the ending of SF Ballet’s season.

  4. I still can’t get over the silliness of the story of Bayadere. What the heck is a fakir? The shades are beautiful though.

    I had a funny run-in with Angel once too…he was carrying a heavy TV backstage at the NY State Theater (odd to see him there, not at the Met!)…

    is Angel just easily found in funny situations?

  5. Hi, Tonya,

    Re: angel corella, it was not a “run-in” (“altercation), I just ran into him, and he was perfectly charming.

    and re: wolcott, I had only just met him myself, via his wife, Laura Jacobs, who was on a panel with me a couple of weeks ago.

    Plus, I didn’t introduce you, THEY rushed up to you, and looked at me for introduction, and when I said who you were they exclaimed, together, Oh, we thought that was you. so, you were the famous one.

    See, Tonya, you really don’t need a human shield! you do perfectly well on yr own.

  6. Apollinaire, I don’t think anyone interpreted the run-in to be an altercation, but a funny experience you had with him. I took that part out. I’m very sorry I invaded your privacy and I won’t mention you on my blog again without your consent.

  7. I came down from Boston to see La Bayadere with my 12 year old daughter, who studies ballet. We were unfamiliar with the leads on Monday night but were entranced by Veronika Part, especially the scene where she is forced to dance at the betrothal of Solor and Gamzatti. Words cannot describe her eloquence and beauty. Marcelo Gomes was amazing as a partner and as Solor; I wanted to see this ballet after reading the Nureyev biography — I think this was one of his favorites to perform? We loved the audience’s enraptured reaction at the end too == how appreciative of the ballet!

  8. Hi Elle — thanks so much for commenting! I first saw Veronika Part in this ballet this time last year and I fell for her the same way you just did. I couldn’t agree more with your description of her! It’s so cool that you came all the way from Boston to see the ballet. Yes, I think this was the last one Nureyev was working on before his death, if I’m not mistaken…

    I know you guys, hopefully she will be promoted to principal. Still so ridiculous that she isn’t imo… But word is she’s definitely staying!

    Oh and Jennifer, I don’t know what a fakir is — I always thought of them as little wild men, troll types. Or half animal, half human creatures that befriend Solor. But good question :) But I forgot to mention that Craig Salstein was excellent in the role of the lead one. Yeah, they could just make them into his friends?… But then that would take away from all that wild jumping about and leaping over that fire, which is really quite stunning…

  9. A fakir can be a few different things. I think, most often, a fakir is a Sufi mendicant. As Bayadere isn’t set in that milieu I’d say we can dismiss that meaning. More relevantly, the term can be used for both Indian ascetics and traveling magicians. The stereotype of the Indian man in the loincloth walking on hot coals, lying on nails, swallowing fire, etc.

    I agree that they do seem quite animalistic in the ballet (which I just saw for the first time tonight) but think that’s Orientalism at work there.

  10. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and it’s been a great source of information about the ABT. I went to see La Bayadere yesterday (Hallberg, Murphy, Wiles) and it was an unmitigated disaster, especially the corps de ballet – dancers completely losing balance, crashing into each other, dropping a candle during the candle dance which then rolled underneath another dancer who almost fell because of it…. I was so looking forward to it because the initial casts got such lovely reviews. I had an out of town guest with me that I had been talking up ABT and especially Hallberg to, and her response was “Did they all have food poisoning?” Have you heard from anyone who was at yesterday’s performance?

  11. Hi SkS — thank you! I don’t know anyone off-hand who went to the Murphy Hallberg. Meg, did you go to that one? I really wish that ABT would run the ballets like the Met Opera does, running a few different ballets within each week so that they can keep the same cast (or maybe two casts) within each ballet. While all of the principals at ABT are technically excellent some of them are better at the adagio roles, some excel at the allegro. No everyone does well with the same role. And one dancer may partner better with one person than another. I think Veronika is the best Nikiya, and I love Marcelo at anything. Diana Vishneva also does well at this role (but she’s injured now and so isn’t dancing). I think of Gillian more as a Kitri, in Don Quixote. And I haven’t seen DAvid yet in this role. I usually really like him, especially as a prince because he’s so regal. I’m wondering how he is as a warrior. He’s usually kind of dreamy, not so grounded. Anyway, I’m sorry you had a bad experience! That’s really bad about the corps. The night I saw them, there was one ballerina slightly out of place during the very beginning of the Kingdom of the Shades, but she immediately repositioned herself and then everything was perfect. The candle dropping thing sounds almost like slapstick or something…

    Meg, thanks for the explanation. Yeah, that’s the problem with some of these ballets. That was one of Lewis Segal’s criticisms in his infamous “Five Things I Hate About Ballet” article (from about 2 years ago now), and that was the one criticism I really could see his point on. I think they serve a purpose because, at least the way Marcelo danced it, they helped him out, letting him know when the King was coming back so Solor and Nikiya could end their little tryst before getting in trouble, etc. And they kind of act as a chorus foreshadowing the tragedy to come. I like the big jumps and all – -I think it thrills the audience at the beginning, gets the ballet off to an eventful start. Maybe it’s just a matter of dressing them differently, making them into magician / wise men types — because they really do look animalistic, and not to mention kind of goofy.

  12. It didn’t occur to me that Solor was a warrior until I just read what you wrote. Funnily enough, I just thought of Hallberg as “the prince,” and in the post-disaster rehash that I did with my guest we kept calling him ‘the prince”! Hallberg and Murphy made a really fun couple during Rogue & Rabbit, but in Bayadere their partnership at some surprisingly creaky and awkward moments, where you noticed how much taller Hallberg is than Murphy.

    Oh and I forgot to say, also (at the risk of sounding like an embarassing fan-person) that reading your blog taught me it was worth the work of learning individual dancer names (even in the corps) and watching for them. It adds so much to the experience. So thanks for that too.

  13. Tonya, I was indeed at the Tuesday performance and I would say that there were clearly a few ladies in the corps who were having a rough day. The candle dropping that SkS mentioned (which was rather loud and then forced a dancer to break formation and pick it up so no one hurt themself) and also a dancer who was having a lot of trouble balancing in the shades scene (while in the front row, of course, poor girl) are the two moments that really stuck out. Looking past those incidents I still enjoyed it and thought there was a lot of really beautiful dancing, but I can see where someone who is more of a stickler than I am would feel the evening was ruined. For my easily pleased self it wasn’t a disaster–just an imperfect night. Particularly because it was my first time seeing the ballet so there was so much stuff to look at. :)

    I agree that Hallberg is more prince than warrior (although as always his dancing was still really beautiful). He seems rather composed even when distraught. I enjoyed Murphy quite a bit, in part because this is a very different role than any other I’ve seen her in and I found that interesting. I picture Part and Gomes being far more dramatic and natural for the roles than Hallberg and Murphy. I’d never seen Wiles dance before and my roommate and I thought she seemed overwhelmingly competent but rather inexpressive. It sounds like she was much better when you saw her on Monday though. :)

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