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Kirov Ballet

'La Bayadere'

by Art Priromprintr

October 17, 2003 -- Kodak Theater, Hollywood, CA

The third of the Kirov Ballet's seven Hollywood performances of "La Bayadere" showed the company much more settled into its surroundings at the Kodak Theatre, but just as majestic as they were on opening night.

The most noticeable difference was the larger corps de ballet in the Kingdom of the Shades scene; a good portion of the company reportedly took sick with the flu on Wednesday night, lowering the number of shades significantly for opening. They were all back on Friday, and they impressed just as much.

Irma Nioradze was a capable Nikiya, though she sometimes seemed to be more concerned with virtuosity than emotion or depth. In the flower-basket dance, for example, she sent razor-sharp kicks flying into the air with speed and precision – but she does this during the opening adagio passage, where Nikiya is supposed to be despairing the loss of her lover and the movements are meant to be slower and more drawn out.

At opening Wednesday night, Diana Vishneva stretched out every movement as if in slow motion, perfectly matching the music and accentuating the intended emotion of the scene, while showing off just as much virtuosity for her skill with adagio work.

Nioradze was better in quick motion, sometimes faltering a bit if movements took too long. Similarly, in the Kingdom of the Shades, Nioradze showed similar flair but less flowing lyricism. Admittedly, after seeing Vishneva, one couldn't help but constantly compare Nioradze to Vishneva; Vishneva was so spectacular in every one of her scenes – especially the Kingdom of the Shades – that the memory could not be erased.

Leonid Sarafanov made as much of Solor's limited role in this production as he could, showing off some spectacular leaps and an impressive knack for spinning. He does not get to do much aside from a few very flashy variations and carting two women around, but his solos were astounding. Elvira Tarasova was stronger in the mime scenes than Wednesday's Tatiana Tkachenko, though Tarasova took a bit of time to warm up to her ultimate sparkle in the Act 2 Grand pas Classique. Otherwise, Gamzatti gets a far smaller role in this production as well – she does not appear on pointe in Act 1, only getting pointe work for the Grand pas Classique.

The second viewing brought to attention just how long this production really is. It's a mix of the old Soviet version and the new-old reconstruction, with more mime. Act 1 seems to take forever to complete, with an abundance of mime and comparatively little dancing. By the time the Kingdom of the Shades arrives in Act 3, we suddenly feel overwhelmed with classical dancing - tutus and classicism are everywhere, whereas the previous two acts were heavily weighted towards character dancing plus mime, mime, and more mime.

In Natalia Makarova's production for the Royal Ballet and American Ballet Theatre - despite the fact that it cuts a lot of things and is of dubious Petipa-authenticity - takes all the business of the first two acts, keeps the best parts, and condenses them into one giant act. Thus, the material leading up to the Kingdom of the Shades takes considerably less time than the 2 hours it takes in this version, and the audience's attention does not wane. Furthermore, the three main characters receive more dramatically coherent, weighty roles when everything is more condensed. I personally do not miss many of the divertissement dances that are cut away when I watch the "shorter" version. And the Kingdom of the Shades comes much, much sooner.

In this production, Act 2 also has the somewhat odd inclusion of black-faced dancers as part of the betrothal scene crowd (an element thankfully absent from Makarova's version). It reads a bit disturbingly in the United States, especially with our embarassing history with black face in vaudeville, and its inclusion may be uncomfortable for American audiences - especially as this production tours to Detroit and Cleveland. I went with an African-American friend on Wednesday, and she was extremely distracted whenever the black face dancers showed up on stage in Act 2. Even if they do not have the same meaning in a production from 1900, modern American audiences respond to it very differently.

Ultimately, black face aside, the Kirov makes their longer version work by their display of simply marvelous dancers. Even if Nioradze failed to impress on the same level as Vishneva, it was never a disaster. Mikhail Sinkevich conducted the orchestra in a lush and heartfelt playing of the Minkus score.

Edited by Catherine Pawlick.

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