Kirov Ballet

'La Bayadere'

by Art Priromprintr

October 15, 2003 -- Kodak Theater, Hollywood, CA

The Kirov opened its week in Los Angeles with a great "La Bayadere," highlighted in large part by a glorious performance of the Act 3 Kingdom of the Shades scene. At least for this performance, they might as well have skipped straight to Act 3, for while the other two scenes provided for some amusing entertainment, nothing really compared that final scene.

The Kirov's unmatched corps de ballet pulled off the famous Shades entrance and opening movement virtually flawlessly; it was like blissful meditation to see them arabesque-ing their way down those ramps and across the stage. The white costumes and the soft lighting make for a dreamlike vision -- the intended effect, of course, but it's extremely powerful every time. Diana Vishneva, as Nikiya, positively sparkled here. The slower tempo for Nikiya's first adagio in the Shades scene drew out the notes on the violin and allowed Vishneva to show off her impressive control, along with a startling ability to hold poses on pointe -- without shaking -- for extremely long times. She also possessed that "it" quality about a ballerina -- the quality when you know the star has arrived and all she has to do is walk onto the stage. And the corps, the marvelous corps de ballet: Each movement was perfectly timed, and their cohesiveness was breathtaking.

The "La Bayadere" that Los Angeles seeing is, for the most part, the Soviet staging that dates from around 1946. The choreographic scheme and the libretto are from the 1946 production, but the sets, costumes and a few production details have been transplanted from the company's recent, much talked about reconstruction. Most significantly, the corps dances in Act 1 don't use pointe shoes as they would have in the Soviet production, instead using heeled character shoes (as is done in the reconstruction) in the dance for the bayaderes around the fire in Scene 1 and the dance for the girls with the sashes in Scene 2 (the Rajah's palace). Gamzatti also appears throughout her first scene sans the pointe shoes and the ballet bun -- her role is essentially mimed in this scene. The mime scenes have also apparently been extended from the original Soviet scheme. This information was confirmed with the help of the Kirov's LA publicist during intermission.

The production ends immediately after the Kingdom of the Shades scene, with Solor and Nikiya reunited in his dream. The program notes say he "leaves his dream world to join them in their dance," so one supposes that he dies somewhere along the line and rejoins Nikiya in the Kingdom of the Shades. It's a weak ending dramatically, but the preceding scene is so beautiful that no one particularly cares -- plus, at that point, the running time has extended beyond 3 hours and many in the audience were ready to go home. I do prefer something that neatly ties up the story, however. In the Bolshoi's production that toured to Orange County last year, there was a brief denoument, in which the temple collapses on a praying Solor, he dies, and then rejoins Nikiya as a shade. It's a much shorter method than the reconstructed version and also shorter than Natalia Makarova's version of the final scene, and it does the job well. But, then again, that matters little here since the dancing is so fantastic.

The sets and costumes from the Reconstructed production work quite well here. Sets in Act 1 and 2 seemed to make the stage space much smaller, however, with the side borders extending the scenery sometimes very far onto the stage. Thus, there isn't much space for Act 1 Scene 2 (the Rajah's palace), and in the Act 2 betrothal scene, the trees on the side take up a good amount of space, as well. When the stage clears to its full width and depth for the Kingdom of the Shades, however, the effect is breathtaking. Using the Himalayan Mountains as the backdrop, and having the shades essentially climb down out of the mountain made for a stunning visual effect.

The costumes looked really great overall. Nikiya did her flower basket dance in Act II in a white costume that looked a lot like her costume from the first scene, however. The posters and publicity photos everywhere show her in a new version of the "traditional" red costume with pants -- I was a bit puzzled as to why it was not used in its normal place here.

Performance-wise, the rest of the cast did a mostly great job. The corps de ballet was fine in each of their moments, dancing with great unity and precision (especially in Act 1 Scene 1). Though there were a few moments where some company members bumped into each other, they were probably still getting used to the Kodak Theater stage at that point. The Act 2 betrothal scene solos were nicely danced but not particularly noteworthy at the same time. Ruben Bobovnikov (an unannounced change to the printed casting) was the Golden Idol, but danced it with little flash or charisma. The audience applauded his athletic feats, however.

Igor Zelensky was an able Solor, turning out the flashy virtuosity in each of his solos. He didn't make much of an impression otherwise, however. He seemed to go through the motions quite dutifully, but his melodramatic acting did little to create a lasting impression. Tatiana Tkachenko was a physically beautiful Gamzatti, and though she showed technical flash and proficiency in the Act 2 Grand Pas Classique she was weaker as a character. It especially showed in Act 1 scene 2 -- the Nikiya/Gamzatti cat fight, if you will. Vishneva was more forceful and dramatic; Tkachenko made all the right moves but didn't seem to throw herself into the role the way Vishneva did.

The two were, of course, outshadowed by Vishneva's sinuous portrayal of Nikiya. Her first solo showed a strong commitment to Nikiya as a character, and the first pas de deux showed Vishneva's lyrical dance capabilities. The flower basket dance was stirring, with Vishneva dancing the range of emotions from extreme sadness to sudden, almost overflowing happiness. And, as mentioned earlier, her Kingdom of the Shades was simply mesmerizing.

Edited by Catherine Pawlick.

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