Haglund observed some glorious dancing in yesterday afternoon’s La Bayadere. He also observed that ABT has a principal ballerina who cannot accomplish a double pirouette even with three tries. How can double pirouette be an ongoing problem for a so-called principal dancer at ABT? Other than that offense in her Act II variation, Hee Seo's performance in the leading role of Nikiya was flat and uneventful. She has a large face that allows opportunity for much expression, but we saw nothing – except for the same expression that we get for all of her Juliets. In Act III when she rushed down to interrupt Solor and Gamzatti’s wedding, it looked like she danced “excuse me . . .” The temple dance and most everything between it and the earthquake spoke like a student. Congratulations are in order for Seo's completion of the turns in the scarf section, which were a surprise, but everything else looked like she didn’t even know the story that she was supposed to be dancing. No imagination. No authority. It was all an utter disappointment, but not really unexpected.
Meanwhile, Cory Stearns gave a surprisingly pleasant performance. It has taken five years, but he has a Solor of some weight now. Maybe it’s due to his less strenuous schedule than in prior years, but he seemed to have a high - yes, folks, a high level of energy with enough power in his butt to make his jumps impressive. Pirouettes were drilled into the floor instead of twirling pretty spins, and his manege of double assemble tours had an urgency that you don’t normally associate with Stearns’ dancing. The pedestrian elements of his choreography had import and weight. While it was sometimes hard to see what was going on with his face due to the smallness and closeness of his features, the drama clearly registered in his torso and limbs. He danced yesterday as though ballet mattered to him rather than as though he had lots of other options.
The Bronze Idol was dreadfully miscast. Corps dancer Zhiyao Zhang has impressive dance technique but none of it looked like it belonged in this variation which seemed far more like Swan Lake PdT than Bronze Idol. Is ABT hiding videos of Angel Corella, Herman Cornejo, and Johan Renvall from its current Bronze Idol dancers so that no one knows how performances thrilled back in the days when La Bayadere was worth watching? Don’t put prettiness on the stage and call it Bronze Idol. Yesterday’s performance was 100 miles from being a Bronze Idol and had none of the fierce staccato quality that it must have.
Finally, there was Stella Abrera as Gamzatti, the only woman on stage dancing at a principal level. Where is ABT’s respect for this dancer? Not only was her Gamzatti a technical tour de force, it was a dramatic tour de force. When Gamzatti offered Nikiya her necklace, she displayed Malnificent’s confidence that Nikiya could be bought off and then her rage when the necklace was refused. The varied hues in her acting created a brilliant and interesting spectrum of character in Gamzatti. Secure pirouettes, Italian fouettes, regular fouettes - all of the dancing was clean, energetic, bright, full of drama, AND interesting. Where’s ABT’s respect for this dancer? Where is her promotion to principal? Why isn’t she dancing Nikiya?
The corps de ballet had it’s Act II together impressively. Gemma Bond, Cassandra Trenary, and Skylar Brandt as the first three shades down the ramp were of a single mind and force, and most everyone followed them faithfully. There was, however, one large shade in the front row with a deer-in-the-headlights look in her eyes who maybe should have been a few rows farther back.
And what a bad idea it was to put an unprepared, ill-fitting apprentice in the Pas d’Action. Oy. The D’Jampe Dancers looked lifeless. Nobody stretched their legs - going forward or backward. The dancing in this section has never looked so small.
Luciana Paris was a sparkling first shade soloist – her every step a joy to watch. April Giangeruso gave up a lot of form in order to get her leg up to her ear and crush the tutu into her torso which created a most unpretty picture in the second shade solo. Katherine Williams showed promise in the third variation but her dancing lacked authority from the waist up.
Tom Forster gave a mammoth performance as the The High Brahmin. Okay, but this man can actually dance up a storm and could easily field a respectable Solor for any number of taller Nikiyas and Gamzattis. The last thing we need to see is Forster being pegged into big character roles when we need him as a danseur. He can act, obviously, and he has a soft romantic side to him. Let him dance Solor. Let him dance Apollo and certainly Conrad. Jeeze Louise, it is heartbreaking to see the waste that is going on at this company simply because the incompetent fool running the place doesn’t know how to build from the inside out.
There were years when Haglund couldn’t bear to miss a single performance of La Bayadere. Now he can barely watch it. It reflects too many things wrong with ABT. It’s certainly not the production itself that is the problem, but it's the management of it that kills the beauty in the art. It’s another dead limb on an old tree that may not be worth saving.
The HH Pump Bump Award – a wild cat stiletto with teeth, spikes, chains and proud tail – is bestowed upon Stella Abrera for her ferocious Gamzatti which she danced with feline grace.