American Ballet Theater’s (ABT) return to Taipei after 12 years began on a bit of a down note last Thursday, with the discovery that principal David Hallberg, who now divides his time between ABT and the Bolshoi Ballet, had broken a foot the week before and so had not made the trip.
However, with that exception, the company’s visit was inspiring.
Hallberg was meant to lead off the first night’s mixed bill program, in George Balanchine’s Apollo, and his place was filled by fellow principal Marcelo Gomes — as was his spot as the warrior Solor in Saturday night’s La Bayadere (The Temple Dancer).
While Gomes was excellent on Saturday, as a whole Apollo left me feeling cold. It looked fussy and outdated, with the Gomes and his three partners just going through the motions. But Thursday’s night’s show quickly picked up with the set of three pas de duex: Daniil Simkin was spectacular as usual in Flames of Paris, though partner Sarah Lane appeared a bit hesitant. Julie Kent smouldered with Cory Stearns in James Kudelka’s Cruel World, while Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo were all fire and flare as they brought the house down in Rudolf Nureyev’s reworking of Diana & Acteon.
The first night was capped off with Christopher Wheeldon’s Thirteen Diversions, which has been in the repertoire for just over a year, a clean and crisp mix of duets, trios and group sets that gave both principals, solists and some corp de ballet members a chance to shine. As a whole, the show whetted the appetite for the four performances of La Bayadere to come.
Watching both performances of La Bayadere on Saturday provided insight into the personality that each dancer brings to a leading role. While Paloma Herrera and Sterns are solid dancers, their lack of chemistry meant you were never quite convinced of their passion for one another as the temple dancer Nikita and Solar during the matinee, compared to Veronika Part and Gomes in the evening show. When Part chose death rather than to live without her love, you believed her, as you did Gomes’ dejection over his love’s death, coupled with revulsion for the role he had played in it. Their pas de deux in the second act with the long scarf was very moving and his double saute de basques were terrific.
However, in both shows, the women dancing the part of Gamzatti, the Rajah’s daughter who wanted Solor for herself, were stunning: Stella Abrera in the matinee and Hee Seo in the evening. Abrera especially was a revelation; she’s an exquisite dancer with beautiful arabeques. Both Abrera and Hee showed a passion and a steely determination to get what they wanted, no matter what.
The Shades scene in Act II was also better with the evening cast, the line of seemingly endless arabeques by the corp de ballet stronger and steadier. Lane, Maria Riccetto and Yiriko Kajiya each nailed their soloist variations.
Arron Scott danced the Bronze Idol beautifully in the matinee, while Craig Salstein did as well in the evening show.
It has been years since I last saw ABT’s La Bayadere and I had forgotten how silly the story is (especially the hunched and cowering fakirs), but it is a dazzling spectacle, especially the temple collapse, and it was wonderful to see a full-length ballet, with full orchestra, huge sets and scores of dancers in something besides Swan Lake.