A Brahmin in Love

Article excerpt

WHEN VICTOR BARBEE PERFORMS the High Brahmin in La Bayadere he has a commanding presence, his muscular arras and earthy stride at once severe and sexy. But while many see this character as a menacing figure, Barbee has a different take. "I know the Brahmin is considered evil, but I can't play him that way," says Barbee in his soft Southern accent. "I can play him as jealous and vengeful against Solor, but he's in love with Nikiya."

Now associate artistic director of American Ballet Theatre, Barbee joined the company in 1977 and has been performing character roles since former artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov asked him to create the role of a parent in his version of The Nutcracker. Today he is celebrated for his diverse portrayals--from his wicked Carabosse to his hilarious Gamache--and he still performs regularly. Aptly described by Clive Barnes in The New York Post as the "uncrowned king of character actors," Barbee is an expert at bringing ballet's fathers, witches, kings, and fops to life on stage.

Barbee strives for three-dimensional portrayals of his villains. "When you're playing a character, you have to go deeper to find out what makes him tick," he says. "The only two characters I can think of that might be innately evil are Carabosse and von Rothbart."

Barbee never had any formal training as a character dancer, but years of performing have taught him key elements of stagecraft that give his perfomances their impact. For instance, Barbee creates a specific walk for each character: Gamache in Don Quixote has a light, poised, but goofy, gait; Romeo and Juliet's Lord Capulet has a heavy, authoritative stride; in Coppelia, Dr. …