writers on dancing


New Stars in "La Bayadère"

"La Bayadère" – chor. Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa
Paris Opera Ballet
Théâtre de la Bastille
March 11-12, 2006

by Marc Haegeman
copyright 2006 by Marc Haegeman

While at the Palais Garnier, Teshigawara, Lagraa and Kylián are representing the Paris Opera’s continuing infatuation with contemporary dance and Jean-Claude Gallotta’s Nosferatu is announced as the next ballet to enter the company’s repertory, that friend of old named tradition happily returns at the Bastille in the guise of Rudolf Nureyev’s last great classic La Bayadère.

Created for Paris in 1992, La Bayadère has been a favourite with audiences and as a company ballet par excellence a formidable test for the Paris Opera Ballet ever since. Splendidly designed—with sumptuous fantasy sets by Ezio Frigerio and lush costumes by Franca Squarciapino—and intelligently staged, La Bayadère may be Nureyev’s least idiosyncratic take on a Marius Petipa classic, but it is surely one of his most agreeable.

Now well over its 160th performance, it’s obvious that the Paris Opera is making sure the characters are realized with a great deal of dramatic depth. The stylized mime sequences in the 1st Act are spiced by a touch of verismo, as if they worry otherwise the message won’t be understood. I find this quite acceptable when it concerns the main roles, since it seems to secure a convincing emotional identification with their character—and in very few companies can one find ballerinas who fight the mime duel as fiercely as here. However there are moments when the desire for realism is unnecessary or simply over the top, as with those overeager warriors who can’t keep their hands off the ‘djampo’ dancers, a performance detail that wasn’t there in the beginning but appears more elaborated with every new showing and leaves you wondering how far they will go next time.

Aurélie Dupont, leading a first cast with Hervé Moreau and Dorothée Gilbert, was an outstanding Nikiya. Her performance had many of the same qualities as noted in her Swan Lake last December. With her unerring sense of style and strong, yet never obtrusive technique Dupont easily struck an enviable balance between the sensitivity needed for the first Acts and the classical exactitude and detachment required for the Kingdom of the Shades. Dramatically as well as theatrically it all made perfect sense. Her character was complete, her dancing always ravishing, but nowhere as much so as in the Shades Act. This is Paris Opera schooling at its most beguiling.

Hervé Moreau, who replaced an indisposed Nicolas Le Riche, was named étoile following his debut as Solor on the opening night of this run, on March 3. In his late twenties, tall and with movie star good looks, he carries the promises but didn’t as yet reveal the qualities of an étoile in his second performance with Dupont on March 11. A reliable partner, his presence was far too tender and meek to kill tigers and face two determined women. And all euphoria surrounding his nomination set aside, his solo dancing that night remained underpowered and he didn’t convey the feeling of security and authority naturally expected from bearers of this title.

Clairemarie Osta in a second performance was fine from a dramatic viewpoint, but, small-scaled and technically less confident than Dupont, didn’t quite convince as a Shade. She was in her element in the opening scenes, appearing a more playful than sensual Nikiya, head over heels in love with Benjamin Pech’s Solor, and in her solo where she beautifully emphasized the Oriental colouring of the arm movements.

Benjamin Pech, also one of the recently nominated étoiles of the company, but already seen as Solor in 2001, was a lot more convincing overall, even if temperamentally he isn’t the best match for the soft-grained Osta. Pech is an energetic but elegant demi-caractère dancer, boasting a much stronger presence than Moreau. A responsive partner, he danced cleanly and forcefully when required.

As became already clear in previous runs of the ballet, the role of Gamzatti proves to be a rather problematic one, mainly because of its dual nature, being solely mime in the first Act and some fiendishly difficult classical dancing in the 2nd. The Parisian Gamzattis all seem to have been coached with great care for the acting parts, yet not only does the management refuse to consider Gamzatti as an assignment for an étoile, the role is now sometimes given to rather immature dancers. (Incidentally, both Dupont and Osta have been cast as Gamzatti in previous seasons).

Dorothée Gilbert, 22, was just recently promoted to première danseuse. She's an eye-catcher of a ballerina, all brilliance and exuberance making her destined to be tomorrow’s star. Immensely popular with the Parisian audience she nonetheless as yet lacks the aplomb to be a complete Gamzatti. The character came out well, resulting in a stirring and aptly theatrical mime duel with Dupont, but she carried off the classical showpiece of Act 2 more with her stage presence than with her overstretched technique.

Mélanie Hurel, in the second cast, is more experienced and found even more details in the role, making a redoubtable rival to Osta’s Nikiya. More a princess than Gilbert and hard as nails, again, the mime duel was excellently handled even if the opening moments were not entirely on the music. Unfortunately her dancing in the 2nd Act was below par, lacking all fluidity, confidence and technical polish. After the Grand Pas Hurel seemed to have lost the character and the interaction with Pech’s Solor while they watch Nikiya dance—I have fond memories of Elisabeth Platel and Agnès Letestu, both Gamzattis who nearly stole the show during Nikiya’s solo—was disappointingly uneventful.

The three shades were strongly cast with either première danseuses or sujets. This didn’t prevent some of the variations looking like technical competition numbers, as with Emilie Cozette in the slow variation. Mélanie Hurel was fine in the second variation, yet it was the always remarkable Fanny Fiat in the final variation—in most other stagings it comes 2nd—who stood out by her musicality, lightness and beauty of placement. A superb moment of classical dancing.

The corps looked sharply rehearsed in the Kingdom of the Shades Act, and also some of the demi-soloists in the 2nd Act—especially the quartet Fanny Fiat, Alexandra Cardinale, Julianne Mathis and Pauline Verdussen—were excellent.

In the supporting roles both Jean-Marie Didière and Laurent Novis are veteran Rajahs, knowing the role inside out, although I wonder if their finely detailed acting projects all the way to the final rows of the huge Bastille theatre. On the other hand I have never been much convinced by Richard Wilk’s pallid Grand Brahmin. Emmanuel Thibault, ideally cast, made the ungrateful number of the Golden Idol in the 2nd Act completely his.

The Paris Opera invited the Bolshoi maestro Pavel Sorokin to conduct this run of Bayadères. By re-arranging the musicians—strings divided, contrabasses to the right, French horns to the left—and by emphasizing brass and timpani Sorokin obtained a much more vibrant and colourful sound picture than the Orchestra of the Paris Opera usually produces in these ballet scores. 

Photo: Clairemarie Osta as Nikiya, photo by Arnold Groeschel.

Volume 4, No. 11
March 20, 2006
copyright ©2006 Marc Haegeman


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last updated on March 20, 2006