"La Bayadère" is one of American Ballet Theatre's most beautiful and significant productions. Though nearly 30 years old, it looked chipper on Monday night at the Metropolitan Opera House.
Choreographed by Marius Petipa, "Bayadère" received its world premiere in 1877 in St. Petersburg. It is a prime product of the 19th-century Romantic and theatrical imagination. A number of operas and ballets were created about "bayadères" — Indian temple dancers — at that time. They fascinated in part because their duties could be both sacred and profane, inextricably linking attributes that are so often polarized in Western imagination.
The ballet's heroine, Nikiya, is in love with the warrior Solor. But their elopement plans are thwarted by the Princess Gamzatti, to whom he has become engaged. Gamzatti finishes off Nikiya with a poisonous snake, but Nikiya won't stay vanquished. She communicates with Solor in an opium-induced hallucination — the Kingdom of the Shades — and finally returns from the empyrean to destroy Gamzatti and Solor's wedding. An apotheosis makes clear that Solor is now Nikiya's for eternity.
"Bayadère" was staged for ABT in 1980 by Natalia Makarova, whose production is based on the downsized and reshuffled 1941 Soviet production, to which she made additional cuts. She also lengthened it by restoring the third and final act (originally the second scene of a fourth act) for which John Lanchbery appended new music to the original Minkus score. A choreographic resolution was devised that owed something to the Soviet choreography of Yuri Grigorovich, as well as something to Antony Tudor, one of Ms. Makarova's favorite choreographers.
Ms. Makarova's "Bayadère" continues to be a boon to ABT, and is now in the repertory of ballet companies around the world. It holds its own alongside the 1941 production and the Kirov Ballet's 2002 restoration of the Petersburg revival of 1900.
Monday night's "Bayadère," was led by Veronika Part, Marcelo Gomes, and Michele Wiles as Nikiya, Solor, and Gamzatti, respectively. Last year, all of these dancers gave illuminating performances of this ballet. On Monday, the theatrical combustion between them didn't quite reach the same flash point, however, and their acting coordination wasn't as finely tuned.
Monday was the first time in many months that Ms. Part and Mr. Gomes have danced extended partnering sequences together. Except for the fact that he's a smidgen short for her, they are a great team, and I don't know why their partnership hasn't been maintained by ABT over the last year. On Monday, their work together was glitch-free and highly professional, but the physical rapport that existed between them a year ago had not completely returned.
Mr. Gomes looked slim and fit on Monday, but sometimes his movement seemed a trifle fatigued and heavier than it had at their "Bayadère" last year. Ms. Wiles lined up as well as mowed down all her technical ducks, but too often her movement was punched out. She straightened her back so rigidly to denote Gamzatti's nobility and determination that often she just seemed mean.
Ms. Part is a highly individualistic dancer who represents several traditions in addition to her own individuality. She epitomizes the Russian emphasis on legato movements, a bel canto all its own. Ms. Part, who graduated from the state ballet school in Petersburg in 1996, represents as well the campaign of the 1980s and 1990s to put ever taller, more supple, and longer-limbed ballerinas not only in lyrical roles, but bravura ones as well. Very few others have succeeded artistically as well as Ms. Part. She lets her height and flexibility expand, but not traduce, the architecture and poetics of classical ballet; her taste is exemplary.
The third and final act of Ms. Makarova's "Bayadère" is shorter and less technical than the earlier ones. And on Monday night it was here that the principal dancers did their best work. Everyone's body relaxed. Ms. Part's leaps off stage as she negotiated her flights of revenge were spectacular. Ms. Wiles had a fierce energy in her solo that didn't contract her. And Mr. Gomes was believably anguished as he found himself caught in their respective webs.