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A 'Bayadere' without bravado

The staging by the once-mighty Bolshoi Ballet is both sparse and uninspired.

November 28, 2002|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

It's been 15 years since the Bolshoi Ballet looked like one of the world's great companies, and its under-rehearsed, under-powered and strangely underpopulated "La Bayadere" at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Tuesday couldn't begin to restore its former glory.

Rechoreographed in 1991 by the company's longtime artistic director, Yuri Grigorovich, this version of the 1877 Marius Petipa war horse replaced a number of mime passages with dancing, added solos for the hero Solor and the second ballerina Gamzatti and tacked on a four-minute finale in place of the lost last act.

Where some of the original Petipa dances succumbed to pseudo-exotic kitsch, Grigorovich refocused them as classical showpieces or neutralized their gaucheries -- as in the blackface dance, which is still there choreographically, but happily without the minstrel-show makeup.

Less defensible: the decision to place a number of sequences on the forestage, in front of an act curtain, to allow scenery to be shifted during the action.

Set in ancient India, "La Bayadere" should be a cast-of-thousands spectacle. But the trickle of Bolshoi dancers crossing the performing arts center's apron at the beginning of the Act 2 engagement scene Tuesday simply looked paltry compared with the "Bayadere" brought by Paris Opera Ballet, the Universal Ballet of Korea, the Kirov Ballet and American Ballet Theatre to Southland stages.

Moreover, ragged dancing took place all evening long, with lots of mistimings by the corps in the engagement divertissement and many different ideas about how high legs should be raised in the celebrated "Kingdom of the Shades" entrance ensemble. Russian training and coaching guaranteed a certain level of technical reliability, but the question Tuesday was whether the company was ready to open.

As Gamzatti, Maria Allash proved stylish but progressively cautious as her bravura challenges increased toward the end of Act 2. As Solor, Andrey Uvarov displayed his customary buoyancy and noble classical line, but the partnering passages seldom looked comfortable or smooth.

As the Golden Idol, Morihiro Ivata fell prey to shaky terminations, and as the Act 1 slave, Kirill Nikitin also struggled with technical control.

Above all, "La Bayadere" should belong to the ballerina cast as the loving, doomed Nikiya, but Nadezhda Gracheva lacked the majesty, individuality and interpretive sharpness the role demands.

In the big lovelorn solo of Act 2, it mattered far less that she finished one of her variations off balance than that she had never thought through and accounted for major shifts in tempo and attack. Her dancing in the Shades scene also looked dutiful and generalized, the product of a great school, but it offered nothing of her own.

As a result, flamboyant subsidiary performances dominated the evening -- the head fakir (Yan Godovsky) and the raucous drum dancers (led by Irina Zibrova, Georgy Geraskin and Denis Medvedev), who supplied the freest dancing, just as the High Brahmin (Alexy Barsegian) contributed the strongest pantomime.

In the pit, Alexander Kopylov carefully led the Pacific Symphony through the tinkly, tacky, often downright unlistenable score by Ludwig Minkus. Three hours of "La Bayadere" always seems like music-deprivation torture, but on Tuesday, the heart, soul and bravado of the old Bolshoi were missing as well.


'La Bayadere'

Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Friday, 7 p.m.; Saturday,

2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; with different principal dancers

Price: $20-$80

Info: (714) 556-2787

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