La Bayadère: From Rehearsals to Curtain Calls
As one waits at the security desk of the Metropolitan Opera House, a hall door opens to reveal several people intently studying posted rehearsal schedules. Martha Johnson, ABT's pianist of long standing, finds out what she is supposed to play in a few minutes--having had no advance warning--and leads the way to a large subterranean studio.
The pianist is greeted in a friendly manner on all sides. Natalia Makarova walks in wearing one of her legendary bandanas, and the rehearsal for the "Shades" section of La Bayadère begins. 1
This is the prima ballerina assoluta's own staging, and so she seems to care deeply that the corps do everything right. Her comments to the pianist mostly have to do with tempo and where to begin. "Not so slow," she requests. The musician must have a fine sensitivity to tempo: exactly what is a little faster than "so" slow?
The music is by Ludwig Minkus, a French composer who worked with the choreographer Petipa in the Czar's court. Martha Johnson mentions that she tried to do research on Minkus and could find out relatively little. Unfortunately for the ballet world in the West, most of the more than twenty full-length works he composed are apparently lost.
Conductor Alan Barker offered this view of the composer: "It's popular in musicological circles to denigrate Minkus as being a bit circusy or rumty-tum and so on. I suppose that is understandable when one considers that he was just about contemporaneous with Tchaikovsky, who was working in such a different extreme, writing such wonderful big symphonic scores (which incidentally were often criticized by the choreographers of the day as being 'un