Form and functionaries

There are Petipa ballets in which nearly every step conveys character, but La Bayadere is not one of them. Wednesday’s fielding of three promising dancers in nearly new roles confirmed how hard the ballet proves for demonstrating theatrical chops. 

 Petipa’s typical structure–interrupting the story for dance “entertainments” — used to drive me crazy. It felt so archaic and mindlessly conventional –like the de rigeur happy/fast, slow/sad, happy/fast sonata form, in which every misery is dispensed with by the end. But then I realized that the digressions were abstract analogues of the story itself. The plot and the dramatic engine may have been stalled but the thread of meaning ran through. 

La Bayadere, for example, interrupts the characters’ devious double-crossing to lay out a parallel universe of art, a  sublimely symmetrical, betuted corps of 24. It’s an argument via art for the sort of traditional orderly values that get thrown into chaos when the temple dancer, the High Priest, and Solor abandon their various stations and vows to follow their passions. The ballet presents classicism as an ethics, which of course doesn’t make it any easier to dance, if you’re Solor or Nikiya or Gamzatti and have to make room for an inner life in largely opaque steps. 

Here’s the opening of my review for the Financial Times, out in the paper paper tomorrow (Friday):

La Bayadère (until Monday; Met season until July 7) is hardly short on drama. By intermission, God and love have been betrayed, one murder has been attempted and another has been achieved. Still, the choreography for the perpetrators of these misdeeds offers only a thin margin for expressing character or state of mind. Indeed, muck of feeling versus purity of spirit – including the spirit of ballet at its most pristinely classical – is the drama, with the main players the crucible. 

That is how it felt, anyway, at the Met role debuts of three promising young dancers: English National Ballet principal Vadim Muntagirov, 22, in his first New York appearance and homegrown American Ballet Theatre soloists Hee Seo and Isabella Boylston. (The dancers’ previous run in the roles was at the matinee on February 4 in Washington DC.)  

For the rest of the review, please click here. Every click is a click for dance. And it’s free, courtesy of the Financial Times, and you only have to register the first time.
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Hee Seo as Nikiya and Vadim Muntagirov as Solor in 
La Bayadere’s Kingdom of the Shades scene. Photo by Gene Schiavone courtesy of American Ballet Theatre.

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