Veronika Part, Marcelo Gomes, and Gillian Murphy overcame the bland, passionless sounds from the orchestra to deliver a glorious opening performance of La Bayadere. The subpar music throughout the run so far finally made Haglund curious enough to look to see who these dismal musicians were. And right on page 28 of last night's program, all was revealed in the + and *. ABT has hired no fewer than 10 guest artists for its orchestra. How one becomes identified as a guest artist in a rag-tag pick-up orchestra is a little hard to understand. But leave it to ABT to pull the guest artist card out of its sleeve whenever possible to cheat us all.
But there were a few miracles on stage last night. Veronika's Nikiya was heavenly. It seems like this could be another transformative and ascending season for her, judging from the results of her off season training. Some of her gorgeous curves have been replaced by crystalline lines of diamond brilliance. Every line is longer. Every step is more secure. Her passion is deeply embedded within the technical architecture of this ballet.
Among the many highlights from last night were Veronika's Act II series of pirouettes that opened to arabesque. She made the swift pirouettes look like a preparation for the huge ending arabesques. It all made such beautiful sense. Her Act I solo around the fire was as sensual and passionate as legally allowed. Then Marcelo's Solor entered the picture and all laws were broken. The two of them together always seem bigger than life. When Veronika flew to Marcelo's shoulder in the PdD, it was one of the purest statements of passion on the stage. Marcelo was in top form last night as well, and at the end of his variations, he delivered the expected deep backbends when his head nearly touched the back foot. His solo at the beginning of Act II was filled with emotion, nearly desperate at times. All of his movement was geared toward reaching for Nikiya.
Gillian Murphy is a natural Gamzatti who can bring off the I'm-spoiled-but-I'm-hurting-too-so-have-some-sympathy act by way of blistering technique. It wasn't her best performance of Gamzatti that Haglund has seen, but Gillian doesn't need to be at her best in order to be one of the best.
Daniil Simkin's Bronze Idol missed the mark again this year. Why McKenzie keeps casting him in this role is hard to understand. When Johan Renvall debuted this role, he set a pretty high standard. Then Angel Corella came along, met the standard, and exceeded it. Then Herman Cornejo came along, met that standard, and exceeded it. We need Daniil to get this role with all of the required upper body staccato. There was too much balletic languishing between the movements. And unfortunately, he tripped at the top of the steps and landed inside the buddha instead of on the top of the first step.
Craig Salstein was fantastic as the Head Fakir. His dirty little beggar had a bit of savage in him as well. He was especially likable when pawing at Nikiya.
Sarah Lane among the Shades (Lane, Yuriko Kajiya, Devon Teuscher) was a standout for her clarity and musicality. The light seems attracted to her face and she was utterly beautiful last night.
The corps de ballet in The Kingdom of the Shades was fairly studied and seemed determined not to err even if it meant being a bit underpowered. But they were lovely.
The evening's Pump Bump Award, a snakeskin under the flower stiletto, is bestowed upon Marcelo Gomes and Veronika Part with the hope that someday we may again see their Swan Lake.