India Jones

Bolshoi Ballet -- a hoot, a wonder, and big in all the right ways at Zellerbach

Small may be beautiful, but so is big — especially if it is spelled "Bolshoi," Russian for big. The Moscow company's current production, La Bayadère, a tale of love and revenge, is set in an India whose Orientalism will make politically correct viewers shudder but that called up paroxysms of delight from the balletomanes who packed the Bolshoi Ballet's recent performances at Zellerbach Hall.

As a huge unwieldy spectacle, this Bayadère is a hoot and a wonder. Some of it — the flailing fakirs; the high-leaping "Indians" — could have come straight out of a Cecil B. DeMille movie. Everything is huge, from the extensions and leaps to the speed and elevations. The excess is impressive and fun to watch, although the show does drag.

In the wedding scene, divertissements spilled over each other: a fan dance, a children's dance, a parrot dance, the water jug "Manu" (a sprightly Chinara Alizade), and a "Golden Idol" (Ivan Vasiliev) who sits in the air like Buddha. The packed stage left little room for the royal couple's pas de deux except to dance in parallel — which they do. For the finale, the bride (Maria Alexandrva) topped off a pyramid of adoring bodies.

This Bayadère is probably the only ballet in which two ballerinas try to kill each other by launching themselves as missiles in grand jeté. The duel between the strong-willed Gamzatti (Alexandrova) and Nikiya (Svetlana Zakharova) injected a much-welcome sense of drama. The man they fight over is Solor (Nikolay Tsiskaridze), an Indian noble. Tsiskaridze is a little self-involved but a spectacular dancer in terms of speed, elevation, and ballon.

With beautiful comportment, Alexandrova's nuanced Gamzatti evolves from young girl to a revengeful wife. With her arms interwined and her liquid torso, Zakharova's Nikiya looked like a fragile flame. But there is steel in that spine and those feet. But Bayadère's heart beats in the 32 women in tutus who make their way down a ramp in long arabesques. Zellerbach's stage was too shallow to carry it off, and the overlapping lines didn't coalesce. But when, as if by magic, they melted into a block of shimmering white, it was heart-stopping.

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