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Flash Review 2, 12-4: I'll Take the Underworld
At Paris Opera Ballet, Moussin's Nikiya Melts Everyone but Her Partner

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- If there's one thing worse than seeing a bad ballerina, it's seeing a divine ballerina contest with a partner who is not her equal in precision or expressive range. As meltingly exhilarating as it was to watch Delphine Moussin really use technique to embody the many phases of Nikiya in "La Bayadere" Friday, the performance at the Opera Bastille was shadowed by the tepidness of Moussin's Paris Opera Ballet partner, Karl Paquette. When she looked at him, and then at the antidote offered to her by a Grand Brahmin (Richard Wilk) who exhibited the passion lacking in Paquette's Solor, it was no contest. The underworld had to be hotter than this cold fish.

Even the best of ballerinas can be hindered by a bad partner, to the point where she doesn't appear as good as she really is. But Moussin triumphed. The rap on this dancer has been that she isn't strong, even though she's nicely "plastic." But her nuanced Nikiya used Moussin's fragility. When the treacherous servant of her rival, Gamzatti, gives her a basket of flowers for her dance at Gamzatti and Solor's engagement party, she surrenders her anger to the joy of the dance, becoming reckless almost, as we in the audience, knowing the serpent that lurks within and her fragility, tremble.

And in Act III (The Kingdom of the Shades), Moussin, the shade now dancing with Solor, offers not cliches but a seamless, gradual progression from the cold (she is dead) white-tutu'd ghost we see first, to, at the end, a softened Shade at piece because it is she who has Solor's heart.

Moved as we are by Moussin, however, Paquette keeps us from fully buying the story, and thus at times this already cumbersome production -- Nureyev's take on the Petipa original -- becomes even more ponderous. Part of what can and should make Solor's betrayal credible and not make his love for Nikiya look fly-by-night is a genuine attraction, at least, to Gamzatti, the Rajah's daughter for whom he throws her over. In an earlier performance, Jose Martinez's Solor took an astonished step back when Eleanor Abbagnato's Gamzatti was revealed to him.

Of course, "La Bayadere" largely belongs to the corps, on whose precision and elegance rests the success of the Kingdom of the Shades, and thus the ballet. The POB corps taught me a couple of new things about this ballet Friday.

It isn't that, on luxuriantly entering one by one, down a ramp, they have to be lifting their legs and arms at the same time. Rather, what matters is the sort of domino or ripple effect, I realized on watching the POB dancers in this crucial segment. Later, when they were arrayed on the stage, their raising of their legs was nothing less than the opening of a passage to the underworld through which Solor can enter.

Moussin also had some help from Laurent Novis's Raja, making the most cliche'd of pantomime that he is given seem natural; and the sprightly sujet Fanny Fiat, both in the first act and especially in the second, paired wtih fellow Energizer bunny Sebastien Colau. Featured in the Shades act, Emilie Cozette managed to make the mincing steps of a silly solo look not so silly.

Joining Fiat and Cozette as Shades were Laetitia Pujol, Marie-Solenne Boulet, Nathalie Aubin, Isabelle Ciaravola, Melanie Hurel, Sandrine Marache, Aurore Cordellier, Vanessa Legassy, Karine Villagrassa, Clara Delfino, Daphne Gestin, Juliette Gernez, Dorothee Gilbert, Eve Grinsztajn, Lise-Marie Jourdain, Carole Maison, Sabrina Mallem, Julie Martel, Juliane Mathis, Myriam Naceri, Myriam Ould-Braham, Sophia Parczen, Ninon Raux, Maud Riviere, Caroline Robert, and (identified in the program only this way) mlles Dilhac, Bevalet, Giezendanner, Vandard, verdusen, Arnaud, Dayanova, and Fujii.

To read about other casts of the Paris Opera Ballet's production of "La Bayadere," please click here.

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