Last updated: May 24, 2012 5:35 pm

La Bayadère, American Ballet Theatre, New York

Three promising young dancers make New York role debuts in a classic tale of feeling versus spirit

La Bayadère (until Monday; Met season until July 7) is hardly short on drama. By the intermission, God and love have been betrayed, one murder has been attempted and another has been achieved. Still, the choreography for the perpetrators of these misdeeds offers only a thin margin for expressing character or state of mind. Indeed, muck of feeling versus purity of spirit – including the spirit of ballet at its most pristinely classical – is the drama, with the main players the crucible.

That is how it felt, anyway, at the New York role debuts of three promising young dancers: English National Ballet principal Vadim Muntagirov, 22, in his first New York appearance and homegrown American Ballet Theatre soloists Hee Seo and Isabella Boylston. (The dancers’ previous run in the roles was at a matinee on February 4 in Washington DC.)

As the temple dancer Nikiya’s clandestine lover, Muntagirov was all sunniness; once recruited to wed the Raja’s daughter Gamzatti, he was a blank. In rounds of leaping and turning, his limpidity and rhythmic grace brought to mind the natural ease of former City Ballet star Damian Woetzel. None of Solor the guilt-ridden betrayer’s desperation or hope inflected the Russian’s steps.

The heat that any number of ABT’s danseurs regularly radiate would have helped Seo in this debut as a sinuous pagan who prays with belly bared. Unlike Giselle – last week’s forsaken woman – Nikiya is no innocent. When the high priest tears off his prayer cap in a bid for earthly love, she insists she is solely devoted to God, only to fall into Solor’s arms as soon as the Brahmin is out of sight. Later she tries to stab her rival. Seo, however, moved with rectitude, in beautiful straight lines – like the formations of the corps in the Kingdom of the Shades for which La Bayadère is justly celebrated.

Only Boylston discovered where dancing might become drama. (Look out for her in the title role of Ratmansky’s Firebird next month.) Her Gamzatti may have cowed Solor into marrying but she also genuinely yearned for him. In the strictly classical pas de deux that follows Gamzatti’s discovery of his pledge to another, Boylston stepped on to pointe and planted her hands on his shoulders as if to shake him. Instead she simply perched there, demonstrating the sublimation of feeling for the sake of form.

3 stars

www.abt.org

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