La Bayadere has some of the most beautiful, passionate musical melodies in all of ballet. If it were an opera, you might hear Renée Fleming and Jonas Kaufmann singing Nikiya and Solor with Joyce DiDonato as Gamzatti. The choral work in Act II would be to die for. In its form as a Natalia Makarova-staged Petipa ballet, it's a dramatic force but it has always been overshadowed by its higher profile Petipa siblings such as Swan Lake and Giselle. Still, the music captures your senses and readies you to be transported wherever the performers will take you. Given the overall problems of the ABT orchestra this season, it was a pleasant surprise to hear the music quality much improved at today's matinee where it was conducted by Ormsby Wilkins.
This afternoon the principal roles of Nikiya, Solor, and Gamzatti were performed by Paloma Herrera, Cory Stearns, and Stella Abrera.
Paloma's Nikiya was in some ways dwarfed by Veronika Part's portrayal of less than 24 hours earlier, but was still a valid performance. There is a lot less of Paloma for the stage lights to bounce off of and it can make her face in particular difficult to read. Smaller features that are closer together always present a challenge for the artist who is trying to convey large emotions in a cavernous opera house like the Met. If one is not blessed with a particularly open face, there are things one can do to make it less of a problem, but it will always be somewhat of a handicap in a large theater. Cory Stearns has the exact same problem. Small, close set features that are not inviting to large amounts of light.
Paloma's strengths as Nikiya today were in her nearly faultless technique applied meticulously with her beautifully shaped legs and feet. Over the years her port de bras has softened and become more classical and is now quite lovely most of the time. She still drops her chest on grand jetes and sauté de chats just as she did when Haglund ocassionally saw her as a 17-year-old in David Howard's ballet class. Imagine how much more impressive a dancer Paloma would have become if the ABT ballet masters had cared enough to insist that she eliminate that bad habit. Most lovely today was her dance around the Sacred Fire during which there were many opportunities to witness the gorgeous curved shape of her arabesque which she balanced on pointe with ease. Her Act II Nikiya was technically assured and correct, but there was not a sense of individual musicality in her dancing. Every phrase was kind of colored the same way.
Haglund attended Cory Stearns' debut as Solor two years ago. Expectations were low at that time and Cory exceeded them only for the first part of the performance. Today, his Solor was very nearly completely put together, but for some shaky lifts, an inflexible back, and some less than strong acting. His stamina has certainly improved a lot. His grand allegro had good, yes, good strength to it. Everything he did had more – oh, what's that ballet term – UMPH to it. His feet, legs, arms, and hands looked like a first class danseur's. The upper torso is still very light and his core didn't look especially strong. He made the over head lifts as required, but he didn't have an ounce of strength to spare which made it all kind of scary. Haglund just doesn't understand why this guy doesn't pump up his upper body. It's not going to wreck his balletic line unless he's trying to look like a delicate ballerina. Cory is coming up on another chance of a lifetime to dance Swan Lake with this country's most glorious classical ballerina. He has the opportunity to create unforgettable moments with her. He has a chance to step out of the shadows of the other male principals by making sure that he has the strength needed to do the job impressively, not just barely.
The main reason that Haglund attended today's performance was to witness Stella Abrera's marvelous Gamzatti. She was even stronger and more secure than when she performed the same role last February in Washington DC. Her characterization of Gamzatti is one of deep love of Solor coupled with a deep hurt from being rejected and a strong sense of royal entitlement to him. Her desperation is tinged with anger. It is fascinating to watch Stella whip her long neck and head around during her Act III solo to convey the depth of her emotions. No other Gamzatti does it so effectively.
Stella's overall performance today was the strongest of the three principals. In Act I her Italian fouettes and regular fouettes had good form and power. Her grand jetes soared with the body high off the hips. All of the technical demands were met with clarity and authority. Add stunning beauty and mature acting, and voilà, you have a PRINCIPAL ballerina. But for some reason, we don't. So let's ask again. Why hasn't our Stella, the Stella who we have watched grow into an incredibly accomplished artist despite some very tough trials, been promoted to principal and why isn't she getting the principal opportunities? Is it really better to bring in some other company's dancer who is too disabled to properly dance roles than give your own incredible ballerina the opportunity? Is it really better to bring in some other company's dancer to perform a marginal Myrtha than give the opportunity to one of your own company's dancers? Is it really better to bring in some other company's unclassical, unaesthetic dancer and encourage your own dancers to copy her unappealing traits?
Arron Scott had much more success this afternoon with The Bronze Idol than did Daniil Simkin last night. He seemed to understand the concept of the Idol's movement, and brought the right accent to the legs, arms, and body most of the time. It's still a work in progress, but he's got a very good start.
How refreshing it was to see Sarah Smith and Luciana Voltolini as the D'Jampe Dancers. Both had such great energy which the backup ladies did not match.
Luciana Paris, Maria Riccetto, and Misty Copeland were excellent in their difficult Shade Variations.
Jeffrey Golladay's Head Fakir was just as grubby as Craig Salstein's last night. His leaps over the Sacred Fire had good height and his savage mime was clear.
The corps de ballet in the Kingdom of the Shades looked perfect, but Haglund confesses to obsessing over the beauty of Gemma Bond's back foot peeling off the floor on its way to arabesque.
If everyone hasn't gone to bed by now, let them not be surprised by Haglund bestowing the Pump Bump Award, an Alexander McQueen snakeskin platform pump ($1230), on Stella Abrera for her stunning performance of Gamzatti this afternoon.