It was set to be the ballerina face-off of the season: Alina Cojocaru's fierce, saintly Nikiya pitched against Marianela Núñez's wickedly entitled Gamzatti.
So, inevitably there were disappointed fans when injury forced Cojocaru to withdraw from the opening night of La Bayadère. Yet, in her place came Roberta Marquez, who not only delivered a seamless last-minute performance, but elicited her own touchingly human drama from the role.
At her first entrance, Marquez's Nikiya looks pale, chaste and remote, yet once dancing, she reveals the sensuous temperament locked inside her religious vocation. Through the moulding of her arms and shoulders, and the emotional impulses that gust through the soft lines of her technique, Marquez fully convinces us that Nikya wouldn't only betray her calling for love, she would die for it.
Federico Bonelli's Solor is equally absorbing. On stage, Bonelli has always eschewed sensationalism for musical finesse and clarity, and it's his elegant technique that adds force to his acting in La Bayadère. Solor has a warrior's pride, and Bonelli registers exactly how his ardour for Nikiya gives way to lust and fear. Not that anyone could blame him quailing in the face of Núñez's Gamzatti, whose eyes glitter with terrifying avidity. It's with a near-audible purr of malevolence that Núñez holds out her hand for Solor to kiss, blocking out Nikiya's desperate pleas.
Núñez's dancing is as irresistible as her acting, yet this star turn is contained within a full-company performance. Despite a few awkward wobbles, Bayadère is an engaging collective achievement, from Akane Takada's hummingbird-bright solo in the second act, through to the corps's attempts to elicit maximum poetry and amplitude from the transcendent choreography of the Shades.
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image: © Kai Schreiber