BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's LA BAYADERE - Underwhelming but Worth Seeing
There is no denying that the artistry of ballet revolves around creating mesmerizing visuals, whether it is lush lovely picturesque scenes or exhilarating "stunt" work that appears to defy all the natural laws of gravity, human flexibility, and motion. In these regards, Houston Ballet's production of LA BAYADÈRE is a sumptuous feast of artistic ingenuity and elegance. However, the repetitious, staunch, and wholly austere European score by Ludwig Minkus as arranged by John Lanchbery and similarly repetitious and almost entirely classical ballet choreography by Stanton Welch, after Marius Petipa, left me wanting something different and something more. With all the references to Bollywood in the pre-production publicity, I expected to see and hear a lot more of the elements from my favorite cinematic genre than the production delivered.
As audiences have come to expect from Stanton Welch, movement in the ballet is grand, sweeping, and beautiful. Stanton Welch is a master at his craft, and his skillful way of moving human bodies on stage is alluring and magnetizing in almost every scenario; however, at Sunday's performance, I expected a different product. I expected to see movement that was inspired by the iconic filmi dances of Bollywood mixed with ballet styles, creating a modern blend of two separate and distinctive dance aesthetics. Instead, I was offered gorgeous classical technique infused with asamayukta hastas (traditional Hindi single hand dance gestures) and samyuta hastas (traditional Hindi double hand dance gestures).
Ermanno Florio does an excellent job conducting the score. He and his orchestra never lag, bringing beautiful life to the score. As someone who played French Horn in junior high school and high school, I loved hearing the horn section so clearly in the work of Ludwig Minkus as arranged by John Lanchbery. I also felt sympathetic for them when they got stuck playing long sections of upbeats in the movements composed in march style. Yet, as Edward Said, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and other notable scholars have discussed, appropriating a story, like the one in LA BAYADÈRE, to such a score seems only to pander to the desire to cleanly experience the exotic through a Western lens. The score in no way reflects the tonal structure of Indian music and would probably be better suited to a ballet that recounts the exploits of a soldier that falls in love with a courtesan, who is murdered because of another's jealousy.
As Nikiya, Sara Webb expertly showcased the character's melodramatic emotional arc. The energizing nuances of youthful love rippled through her first act movements, while her body wavered and shook with sorrow and hopelessness during the second act. In the third act, she displayed the perfect amount of serenity.
Ian Casady danced Solor with an exuberant virility. He was strong and impassioned; however, as he was forced into marrying a woman he did not love, the audience got to see a softer, more emotionally vulnerable side to the character.
As Gamzatti, Kelly Myernick deftly portrayed jealousy and hate. She came across as entirely villainous; overemphasizing all of her gestures in the right ways to ensure the audience knew her character's dastardly intentions and dubious deeds.
The enigmatic and fascinating High Brahmin was mesmerizingly danced by Linnar Looris. The confounding vacillations between his sympathetically caring love and imposing bravado concerning his own passions for Nikiya were completely fascinating.
Rhodes Elliott was astounding in the demanding and athletic role of Kalum the Fakir. He carried himself low to the ground in an animalistic like fashion almost the entire time he was on stage, which was extraordinary and captured the eyes and attention of the audience with ease.
Likewise, the numerous other members of the cast delved into their own characterizations with both feet. The large cast brought stunning life into each role, ensuring that the audience could follow the convoluted tale with relative ease. Each one committed to the striking and pristinely picturesque movements.
Peter Farmer's Scenic Design and Costume Design are altogether magnificent. The Scenic Design, especially, compliments the locale of the story and really works to add a realistic and believable backdrop to the tale. Likewise, the costumes are excellently designed and fantastically rich and colorful until the "Kingdom of Shades" portion of the 3rd act. Here, the color palette appropriately diminishes (this scene takes place in the spirit realm); however, the costumes switch from being representations of Indian fashions to classical ballet costumes. For me, the change in costuming was jarring and totally removed the barely present Indian flavors from the ballet, making this segment feel like it was clipped from another ballet and placed into this one as a placeholder.
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