Tonight I attended ABT’s La Bayadere at the Metropolitan Opera House. I had seen this version of the ballet a few times before, but forgot how much storytelling goes on at the beginning. I especially enjoyed the scene between Nikiya (A. Cojocaru) and Gamzatti (M. Copeland). The interaction was taut with theatrical drama, and just enough opulence to make it very enjoyable. I could watch them simply walk and stare each other down all evening. The women confronted each other with urgency and commitment, which I always enjoy. The famous Kindgdom of Shades scene was executed respectfully by the corps de ballet. I counted 24 dancers that were dived into 4 horizontal lines of 6, 3 horizontal lines of 8, and 2 perpendicular lines of 12. This happened beautifully after that long and luscious serpentine diagonal crossing that slithers across the stage about 4 times before dispersing into more square formations. The corps de ballet really danced as one unit, and it was beautiful to behold such sophisticated simplicity executed so truthfully. H. Cornejo was in wonderful form as Solor. Turning, jumping, and lifting in the most admirable way. The Golden Idol is usually one of my favorite moments, but something about the dance failed to ignite the sense of majesty and wonder that I recall having upon seeing it in the past. Everything was in working order, but nothing impressed about this soloist. Alina Cojocaru really stunned in her final solo during the wedding scene. Especially gorgeous to behold were a series in which she lowered onto one knee, with the other leg extended diagonally to the floor as if in arabesque. She’d hit this shape and then melt achingly further into the ground in a way that I found tragic and beautiful.
Of course certain elements of classical ballet, and specifically La Bayadere stir up questions regarding the politics of representation and approproiation in my head. La Bayedere is a primarily Russian creation of a French dance language based on an Indian story. What to make of the Indian-esque gestures and costumes that have been appropriated and implemented into the technique and style of classical ballet? I wonder what a classical Indian Odissi or Kathakali dancer would think of this ballet. Is La Bayadere embedded in layers of misogyny? Nikiya is a slave with no agency and Gamzatti nearly kills her in order to keep her man, the valiant Solor. Is the sometimes pliant and quivering, sometimes stiff and erect ballerina a representation of the phallus? At any rate, I enjoyed the evening as a witness to the spectacular artistry and technique brilliantly executed by ABT in this performance of La Bayedere at the Met.