Monday June 23, 2008 - Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes in ABT's production of LA BAYADERE in a Gene Schiavone photo. All this Spring, Ms. Part had been rumored to be leaving ABT but as it happens she will be staying with the Company. In past seasons I have seen her in some maddeningly uneven performances but tonight as Nikiya, Part danced like the consummate prima ballerina she is. With Marcelo Gomes on magnificent form as Solor and Michele Wiles in a spectacular performance as Gamzatti, this was a great evening. I think probably BAYADERE is the best thing ABT does and now I'm trying to find a way to squeeze another performance of it into my already-full week.
For the first few years that I was attending the ballet, BAYADERE was only a name. I heard people talking in hushed, reverent tones about something called The Kingdom of the Shades which was supposedly the most perfect single act of ballet ever created. In 1978 the National Ballet of Canada brought it to the New York State Theatre (far left panel) and I fell instantly under its spell. It wasn't until 1983 that I finally saw the entire ballet in ABT's production; at that time I thought much of it was pretty dreadful (I have since made peace with it) but again the Shades scene wove its spell. People who've never seen BAYADERE in the theatre know a bit of it from the film TURNING POINT where it plays under the opening credits.
The melodic goldmine of the Ludwig Minkus score with its rhythmic variety, unapologetically expansive adagios and touches of Orientalia makes BAYADERE as pleasing to hear as to watch. How well I recall the excitement when Natalia Makarova first staged this ballet for ABT; there were stories of her arduous drilling of the corps for the Shades scene, working on style and unity of expression. Tonight the ABT Corps - despite a few swaying balances and not-quite-in-sync arms - again did Makarova's vision proud and won a sustained applause after the entree. (Rosalie O'Connor photo).
One of the problems I have attending ABT is the distancing effect of the Met: the stage seems far away and the dancers can look very 'small' but tonight the stature of the Part/Gomes/Wiles trio and the scale of their dancing read clearly and profoundly throughout the House (I was upstairs for Act I and then downstairs for Shades). When Veronika Part's Nikiya is 'unveiled' I had a momentary illusion of Cynthia Gregory but as soon as Veronika began to dance, it was All-Part-All-Evening. The tall beauty looks gorgeous in these costumes. Her dancing was revelatory in its grandeur and flow, ideally showcased by Marcelo's ardent sincerity as a partner. Beyond that, Part brings something extraordinary in terms of presence. I was trying to put it into words during the intermission and Susan summarized it in one sentence: "She creates her own world and draws you into it." So true: so often when you focus on Veronika she has an almost visionary expression; there's no theatricality in her performance, just a sense of purity lit from within.
Let's say right off that Marcelo Gomes is the handsomest man ever to grace the Met stage. You might have someone else in mind, but you'd have a hard time convincing anyone who was there tonight. What's so great about Marcelo is that his good looks don't seem important to him in the least: he could easily coast along and win hearts on his face value alone. Instead, he is a phenomenal dancer, partner and presence. He is also something of a rarity: a very tall man who is also a top-class technician. He and Veronika were so compellingly committed to expressing all the beauty, tenderness and poetry of the music and of the dramatic situation.
Michele Wiles (in a photo from the Baltimore Sun) was a Gamzatti unlikely to ever play second-fiddle to anyone: both in terms of character and technique, she brilliantly upheld her corner of the romantic triangle. The role suits her somewhat cool temperament ideally; she looked aristocratic and 'entitled'. Michele's dancing all evening was at such a high level and if her fouettes in the Betrothal Scene looked brilliant, you should have seen her pristine pirouettes in Act III. Uncanny - she just kept spinning effortlessly. The sense of spaciousness and full-out grandeur that Michele, Marcelo & Veronika displayed all evening made this a thrilling BAYADERE.
As if the principals weren't providing enough magic, the soloists danced grandly as well. Carlos Lopez was an especially precise and exciting Bronze Idol, nailing his three tricky combinations to the knee. Yuriko Kajiya in the second Shade variation has a very appealing song-like quality; her 'sisters' were the technically dazzling Sarah Lane and the very accomplished Melissa Thomas. Craig Salstein's big leaps and dramatic intensity made a high-profile cameo out of the Head Fakir. Ever-alert during intermissions, we spotted Amar Ramasar, Sara Mearns and Ashley Bouder on the Grand Tier.
There was a good-sized audience but again a lamentable lack of enthusiasm. An intrepid gathering of the faithful at the orchestra railing at least managed to obtain an extra set of solo bows but really, dancing at this level should have provoked prolonged fits of screaming, barrages of bouquets...and bleeding palms.
Perhaps people have simply become too blase or self-absorbed to care passionately about such things. When I tell some of my younger opera and ballet friends about the ovations of the past they seen somewhat disbelieving. I suppose from an artistic point of view it is irrelevant whether a great performance gets three minutes of applause or thirty. But in terms of atmosphere, things have certainly changed.