The Solor last night was the company's new male principal, Lasha Khozashvili, from Georgia. He looked at first a big, noble presence with easy beats and leaps and turns, and the ability to keep the leg up in seconde — a simple, spiritual soul more in tune with Nikiya than Gamzatti. A manège of simple coupé-jeté turns seemed modest enough, but as the performance went on, he heated up: a good 45-degree revoltade, really quick turns (this company has been short of men who can turn quickly), a manège of double tours, everything getting faster while remaining big and easy.
There was a lot more to appreciate last night. Altan Dugaraa was hyperactive, all writhing arms and legs, as the Lead Fakir. Krista Ettlinger and Sabi Varga were the uninhibited soloists in the Indian Dance, Rie Ichikawa a teasing treat (reminiscent of Red Riding Hood in Sleeping Beauty) in the Manu Dance. As the Golden Idol, new company soloist Joseph Gatti exploded in a succession of dizzying chaîné turns, pirouettes that stopped on a dime, and pas de chat double tours. As the first solo shade, Misa Kuranaga gave a master class in flicking the right leg out in développé; as the second, new company soloist Adiarys Almeida reigned in quick changes of weight and direction; as the third, Whitney Jensen showed off a variety of weighted beats.
The handsome quartet of sets range from the wooded glade with a view of the Himalayas for the temple area and the Kingdom of the Shades to a brown study of arabesques for the Rajah's palace and an arched enclosure with palms and more Himalayas for the engagement celebration. The costume palette comprises muted autumn oranges, russets, and browns for the brahmins and most of the palace figures, dove blue-gray for the bayadères. Given the subdued lighting, it all could pop a bit more.
Last night's audience remained subdued until Gatti lit up the stage. After that, it was primed for the fireworks from Ettlinger and Varga, and then Breen Combes, and Khozashvili. But it seemed hypnotized during those six minutes when the shades enter and assemble, the Boston Ballet Orchestra under Jonathan McPhee proceeding ever so slowly, ever so sure-footedly, and the shades following suit. Two weeks back, when this segment was presented at the Ballet's "Night of Stars" gala, the 24 ballerinas were not quite ready. They were ready last night. They were more than ready — they were superb. The audience erupted.
WEEKEND UPDATE Watching the second cast Friday evening and the third Saturday afternoon confirmed my thought that the company had put most of its best feet forward on opening night. Not that there wasn’t much to enjoy. On Friday, James Whiteside was a loose, lanky, Yankee kind of Solor who in the first act paired well with Kuranaga’s soft, æthereal Nikiya — you might have been surprised if you hadn’t seen them together in George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations last season. Whiteside, however, was subdued in his second- and third-act solos, and in the third act he and Kuranaga looked a little detached. Their Gamzatti, Erica Cornejo, seemed miscast: fragile and friable, she lacked the sensuousness of Breen Combes (who on Thursday appeared to have arrived direct from Odalisques “R” Us), and she was too straightforward for the wistful nuances of McPhee’s phrasing. She was much better Saturday as Nikiya, especially in the agony and ecstasy of her dance in celebration of Solor’s engagement, and in the exuberance of her third act, when she got to cut loose with some pace.