Kirov Ballet

'La Bayadere'

by Julie Gervais

October 30, 2003  -- Detroit Opera House

On behalf of the entire Detroit metro area, all I can say is that we should thank our lucky stars for individual and corporate sponsors of the arts. Without them, we would be a city that does not see the kind of dancing that the Kirov is doing here this week.

Thursday night's performance of La Bayadere was quite sublime. There is an extra comfort level going into any performance with the Kirov, sort of like the occasional trip to a really great restaurant -- you know that no matter what, it's going to be a good night. The cohesiveness of their port de bras, the hyper-articulation of their feet, the sets and costumes that are over the moon -- those things are a given before you even consider the incredible dancing and dramatic energy.

Vladimir Ponomarev as the High Brahmin enters in the first act with an eerie presence indicative of madness -- a man completely possessed. Then again, maybe he's just upset because all of those women won't put their pointe shoes on. I have to say I really agree. I know, I know, it's an authenticity thing. But those low Grecian sandals with the short heels are just not ideal for these women, who were born to wear pointe shoes. Especially Elvira Tarasova (Gamzatti), who for the first half of the ballet is made to wear a particularly unappealing pair of flats, seemingly borrowed from a Palm Beach housewife. Of course they all overcome this limitation with finesse, rising up to demi-pointes so high that it seems possible they might just go all the way up anyhow, shoes be damned.

Ms. Tarasova certainly takes your mind off her previous footwear when she appears for the Act II wedding festivities. She is regal and a bit glitzy in a white tutu that I find hard to associate with the year 1900. In the design, maybe, but in the details this dress was up-to-the-minute J.Lo glamourous. She was a bit of a spitfire at times too, ripping off her fouette sequence at a rapid clip. In her partnering with Solor (Adrian Fadeev tonight, not Anton Korsakov as originally announced) she had a marvelous way of seeming to show a bit of emotional detachment even as she danced steps that were meant to convey ardor. As in, "he's great, but it's not love, just something my father cooked up." This bit of ambiguity makes it more interesting: is Nikiya's death the revenge of Gamzatti or that of her father?

Happy to report, incidentally, that someone intervened and persuaded the artistic staff to allow the children in the little brown "minstrel" costumes to omit the use of blackface in the wedding celebration scene. It would have been particularly uncomfortable and inappropriate here in Detroit. Act II in general immediately supplied all of the kind of dancing that I had been longing for more of in Act I. It's almost too much at once when the four women of the Grand Pas Classique are cavorting with big allegro steps around Solor and Gamzatti as they dance together -- I felt that no matter where I looked, I'd be missing something! But it does create a strong sense of exuberance that builds up a tremendous emotional wall for Nikiya to break through when she arrives at the palace.

Our Nikiya was Sofia Gumerova, and she was captivating from her first entrance in Act I, personifying stillness and reserve behind her veil. Her body sometimes tells a different story than her face. In her lines and in her steps, she shows love, devotion, desperation and resolution but in her face, it does not show as much. She is so unassuming in her grandeur as a dancer that it almost reads at times as indifference. Still, she is a compelling Nikiya. Her balances during the third act pas de deux were absolute, with the serenity of a woman who has already endured it all.

Then there are those glorious Shades. The anticipation of their entrance is almost as exciting as the entrance itself. Unfortunately, the first Shade out of the box tonight did hop once before establishing her line -- but what a line. She does indeed have some kind of ultra-arabesque, her back held up against a leg reaching for the stars. And then they just keep doing that thing, and it's easy to forget that there are any problems at all in the world. They achieve divinity through the simplicity of first arabesque and tendu devant.

Mr. Fadeev was suitably elegant and commanding. I don't understand the mood contrast he must experience in the beginning of Act III, though. He enters with a somewhat brief but exuberant solo, then seems to remember how badly he messed things up and retreats to the daybed to send his memories up in smoke. His Solor is a man who flies through the air with the greatest of ease, but as a fair-haired guy who seems to have more of a lighthearted style of moving, he does not brood or anguish quite as darkly as some others.

Overall, this company makes magic. It's almost hard not to attend every single performance, knowing that they are in there each night, creating their wonderful alternate universe.

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