April 30, 2001
The curtain tonight for the Paris Opera opening in San Francisco was at 7:30, but the bus took a fearful long time to come afterwards so I'm racing the hour of midnight. I expected to hear "Allons Enfants de la Patrie," followed by "Oh, Say Can You See," but apparently even though Mme. Chirac was here unofficially, that form of protocol was skipped in honor of the dance itself.
The press room provided us with all manner of information about
when the Royal Academy was founded; how many dancers (96) came with the company; how many freight containers were required to
bring sets, costumes and lights to San Francisco (19 by the bye);
how many more lights were required than San Francisco Ballet
normally uses(200),and the titilating bit that 12 local children were auditioned for roles and 43 local adults got to be extras.
With all this came the information that San Francisco doesn't get to see Isabelle Guerin at all. The opening Nikiya in La Bayadere was danced by Fanny Gaida with Aurelie Dupont as Gamzatti.
The dancing was marvelous and the Shades, all 32 of them, rated
several rounds of deserved bravos. Their costumes had wonderful touches of diagonal green stripes on the bodice, which gave a refreshing change from the usual dead whites, and harmonizing with the outdoor decor.
Some moments stand out for me, and I just want to mention a few.
Each part seemed finished, and particularly appealing was the style for the goings on in Act II, the Betrothal Scene. When the Khastriyas came on stage, their groups and the movement across stage was the epitome of a group of young bloods moving in an official gathering, aware of the moment, the protocol, but also extremely assured individually.
Twenty years ago I would have been indignant about the libretto's anthropological atrocity. Now it's merely a hoot and an amazement that Nureyev and the decor by Ezio Fregerio and the costumes by Franca Squarciapino are so lush and fullsome, adding handsome emphasis to the hodge podge of the story line. What is really correct is the magnificent display of color in the costumes, all consistently Indian in quality. The designs cheerfully mix ballet cliches with distant approximations of Indian cholis, dhotis, saris and turbans. The Grand Brahmin has a headdress straight from The King and I with his priests following suit. The Fakir and the Hindus are so obsequieous as to be slaves, or shall we say guileful manipulators in the best colonial imagination. And the Rajah, wow, Scheherazade revisited! It's also the first time I have ever seen ruffles on a nautch skirt and the use of the scarf around the neck as a kind of leash for the ensemble in Act II.
Admittedly striking, The handsome facade of the Hindu temple is derived from Arabic calligraphy. A Rajah, to the best of my knowledge, is Hindu, and frequently Rajput, but the decor is inspired by the Taj Mahal. An admirable example, but very Mughal and therefore Muslim. What works best (read scenically correct) is the Kingdom of the Shades, set against lush nature, and suggestions of a cluster of temples in the background. The ramp for the dancers was quite modest, perhaps due to the problem of transportation. It is quite the best setting of that pium-induced vision I have seen in the five different productions I have watched.
To the dancing, we had Fanny Gaida as Nikiya. When she is brought on, suitably veiled, the elegance of her feet as she approached stage center was as lush and sensuous as I have everseen. The point, the flex, the positions positively reeked of feminine allure. In the meantime Manuel Legris had come forth and had his dialogue with The Fakir. If you're going to be servile, let it be with the style Lionel Delanoe gave us. Legris was suitably commanding and impetuous in his eagerness to get Nikiya out of the temple.
The drama line was clear and succinct throughout. One never was
in any doubt as to what was about to happen, except perhaps the
asp in the flower basket in Act II, nor the intensity with which it was conveyed. Nikiya and Gamzatti displayed a real contest of wills, in addition to Solor's ambivalence.
Richard Wilk's Grand Brahmin and Jean-Marie Didiere's Rajah were wonderfully cunning. There was no doubt that both had major
agendas. If Aurelie Dupont is as good at dancing Nikiya as she was for Gamzatti, it will be one of the revelations of the engagement.
Fanny Gaida seemed best when she was in Buddhist yellow in Act II
and thinks that the basket of flowers is from Solor. She gets positively jazzed with a bouncy Russian flavor before the asp does its business at her breast. She also was lovely in the opening pas de deux with Legris. When it came to the Kingdom
of the Shades her musical line never seemed to connect between the head and torso, stopping in the upper shoulders.
Aurelie Dupont seemed so so until her tantrum with Nikiya. In her variation in Act II her variation built slowly and finished with dazzling fouettes.
The Paris Opera Ballet mounted the barricades and won the audience easily. Since I will see the production twice more, I'll stop here. The audience was warm, highly responsive, deservedly appreciative of Legris and those magnificent shades.