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Leigh Witchel

Do you cast for Act I or Act II?

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In the Giselles I recall at present, almost all the ballerinas were uncomfortable in Act I and came into their own in Act II.

For those who have a longer viewing history than me (paging ATM. . .) were Giselles once ever more comfortable in the first act than in the second? Of course, there are ballerinas who are great in both, but even the great ones seem to have a preferred act.

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Galina Ulanova is one of the few great Giselles who seems to have made Act I her main act. The Soviet-era literature notes her pure-souled Act I. A lot of this very 'natural peasant girl' charm comes across in the Paul Czinner film. Her mad scene was one of the most understated, yet most compelling. Ulanova's Act II, while lovely, was almost an anticlimax to Act I.

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Well, the first was Fanny Elssler, who made the mad scene really mad and was not convincing in the second act.

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And when she took her production to Havana, she had her Cuban corps de ballet Wilis who couldn't stand still. They lolled about the stage, sitting on the scenery and lighting up cigars. Talk about upstaging! :rolleyes:

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Leigh, you've touched on a problem I've had with Giselle for years now. The trouble, I think, is that ballerinas I've been seeing in the role have no conception of innocence. They confuse it with naivete, which is NOT the same thing.

It's been some time since I've seen a Russian dance this role, but at least in Soviet times they could be depended upon to understand innocence. I remember especially Nina Ananiashvili's performance of the role in the mid/late 80s, when she must have been in her early twenties. She had a lovely unspoiled quality that I've never seen in a Westerner. I ascribed it to her having been "protected" from cynical, commercial Western culture. I have no idea if today's Russians have been "ruined" by their exposure to same, but somehow I suspect they haven't been. Whether we have coaching to thank for this (if it's true) or an artistic culture that trumps whatever's available commercially, I don't know. But I wish we had some of it.

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I think it is more important for Act II to succeed, and like you, Leigh, the ballerinas I've seen have tended to be stronger here. Of the ballerinas I've seen in the role, the one who best gave the entire role an organic integrity was Kirkland. I haven't seen Ferri's in ages, but she may be able to pull it off at this point.

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Ari, I think you've isolated an etremely imprtant issue.

ANd you've reminded me how much we lost in San Francisco when Julie Diana left for Philadelphia.

She could play a plausible virgin. I remember seeing her as a student in Suki Schorer's class and noticing htis quality in her then, and she still had it after almost a decade here -- her first act Giselle was our best by far

There was an extraordinary hush that came over evrything when she saw Bathilde's dress go by. That was the first indicatoinof her suddenly having to imagine a world really beyond anything she'd known -- when she saw the dress cross the stage in front of her. most Giselles don't give you hte idea until they go lift the skirt; but she communicated it to us before bathilde had sat down. I don't know how she did it -- but it had the proverbial effect of "opening her eyes."

and Carbro, I have no doubt that Kirkland was just as you say -- she had a special affinity with the character.

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Makarova's Act I was just as strong and eloquent as her Act II, IMO. She captured Giselle's innocence and fragility perfectly.

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When Makarova returned to the stage after her maternity leave, her characterization in the first act was much improved. Until that time, I never sensed a village maiden, just a ballerina trying to be one. Even though she was Russian, she fell into the trap that Ari described, but more coy than naive.

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I only saw Makarova's pre-maternity Giselle, but I did love her in both acts! The ABT video of her with Baryshnikov is my absolute favorite recording of Giselle. Makarova, Baryshnikov & van Hamel all take my breath away each time I watch it, even now.

On the other hand, I think I know what Carbro means about her first act looking like "a ballerina trying to be a village maiden". I'd already seen Makarova's Giselle several times before the first time I saw Kirkland/Barysh. Kirkland's first act Giselle was so vulnerable & touching that Makarova's seemed contrived in comparison. Kirkland's Giselle was dewy eyed, and hopelessly in love with Baryshnikov's Albrecht. She may have been naive but she was also innocent & delicate and wore her heart completely on her sleeve. I remember during their 1st act pas de deux, when she did a penchee arabesque - it seemed like she actually stepped into it on point & went down into penchee (180 degrees!) while still on point & then held it there before coming down off point- all the while gazing adoringly over her shoulder at Albrecht! I know that it must have been an illusion but it was so amazing that the whole audience gasped, and yet the way she did it was completely in line with her characterization. AND she tossed it off as if it was nothing & had been totally spontaneous. Her 2nd act was very moving, very spiritual

Later that same year (or soon after) I saw a very young Ludmilla Semenyaka with the Bolshoi in Giselle. I thought she was equally good in both acts & I remember thinking that her portrayal seemed like a combination of Makarova & Kirkland's best attributes. I also think Carla Fracci was very good in both acts.

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were Giselles once ever more comfortable in the first act than in the second? 

There are three that I saw who come to mind---Tamara Toumanova, Mia Slavenska and Nora Kaye who were much more successful in Act I. Toumanova was my very first Giselle (with Dolin) and I realized how unsuited she was to Act 2 when I saw Markova and Alonso. Slavenska was a very healthy village girl and her Act 2 was a real "hoot!". She had a very glittery tutu with a plunging vee neck, topped by her flaming red hair. Nora Kaye had a very successful Act 1 and she proved she could be quite vulnerable; she really was not suited to Act 2, and she also had to put up with those awful Berman sets with the blue/black tutus of the Corps. (The Nora Kaye Giselle was broadcast live in July of 1950 and there must be a kinescope (?) of it somewhere)

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Alina Cojocaru's Act I is stunning. She captures the girlish innocence and the pure exhilaration of being in love completely convincingly naturally. She IS Giselle on stage, and she acts as a complete, detailed character. One interesting thing is that she isn't just acting when she is in the spotlight - she's Giselle even on the side, playing with her mother and reacting/watching the Peasant Pas de Deux as though she were in the village herself (I find most principals either off stage or staring placidly). You fall in love with her, and your heart literally breaks with her as she quite convincingly goes mad during the Mad Scene. Then, Cojocaru comes back for Act II and knocks you out there as well. So, there is at least one remarkable Act I Giselle - I was even disappointed, after seeing Cojocaru's Giselle in Orange County, to revisit the Makarova/Baryshnikov video and find that Makarova seemed older and the girlishness more "put on" than I found with Cojocaru.

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Is there a DVD of Fracci's Giselle?

Carbro, I saw Ferri's Giselle at the Kennedy Center a few months ago, and for all my criticism of her fading technique (although her movements were incredibly plush and velvety) I would say that she does approach the ballet as an organic whole and succeeds.

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you're quite right, and the library does have this giselle; here is the catalogue entry:

A condensed version, telecast by NBC-TV. Commentator: Ben Grauer.

Choreography: Anton Dolin after Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot. Music: Adolphe Adam. Decor: Trew Hocker. Cast: Nora Kaye (Giselle), Igor Youskevitch (Albrecht), Diana Adams (Myrtha), Dmitri Romanoff (Hilarion), Mary Burr (Giselle's Mother), Edward Caton (Duke), Norma Vance (Bathilda), Michael Lland (Wilfred) and artists of Ballet Theatre, including: Lillian Lanese, Virgina Barnes, Ruth Ann Koesun, Barbara Lloyd, Jenny Workman, Irma Grant, Isabel Mirrow, Liane Plane, Dorothy Scott, Charlyne Baker, Lila Popper, Jack Beaber, Kelly Brown, James Hicks, Vernon Lusby.

(The Nora Kaye Giselle was broadcast live in July of 1950 and there must be a  kinescope (?) of it somewhere)

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What about Alonso? I have heard a lot said about her (I even own a video tape in which Arnold Haskell says that she IS Giselle). I wonder if anyone who saw her would agree.

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Well, I have only seen an excerpt of Alonso dancing Giselle, and only in the first act, but I must say that I found her a pleasure to watch - very lively, very "real". She is evidently much influenced by Alicia Markova's interpretation, but personally I prefer Alonso's more cheerful (I could add, less simpering) interpretation of Giselle. However, if anyone asked me, "who IS Giselle?" my answer would be: equal tie between Carla Fracci and Galina Ulanova.

Interestingly enough, Art076, I would certainly have classed Alina Cojocaru as one of those ballerinas with a better second act than first act. Her act one was very good - as you say, she acts it all very naturally, but to me, it was her act two that really classed her with the "great" Giselles. She brought a truly spiritual quality into her dancing and masterfully kept up the illusion of being a disembodied spirit throughout the second act (I've never believed that Giselle really turns into a willi - she just comes back to save Albrecht).

Wasn't Olga Spetssivtseva famous for her first act?

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I forgot to add Yvette Chauvire. Wasn't she also particularly famous for her first act? I can't judge myself, having only seen her in very brief excerpts of Giselle.

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And what about Spetzitseva? While I've only read about the magic of her Act II, the film footage of her Act I looked wonderful indeed, especially her creepy mad scene

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What about Alonso? I have heard a lot said about her (I even own a video tape in which Arnold Haskell says that she IS Giselle).  I wonder if anyone who saw her would agree.

I saw Alonso at the Met a long time ago, but she was too much a mature woman then for the role. I would love to see a film of Alonso's Giselle when she was in her twenties. Does such a film exist?

"IS" Giselles?

Gelsey Kirkland IS, most certainly was, Giselle, just as Aprile Milo (opera) IS Tosca. And one act in either story would not stand up well, for me, without the other being brilliantly, believably done. Sort of like watching R&J. The death scenes would be most strange to watch without convincing beginnings of innocent, blooming love and its drama unfolding.

Alina Cojocaru, without hesitation, is my favorite Giselle of today's women (in both acts).

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:yahoo: & :) Cojocaru is my favorite Giselle too. Another Giselle I admire is Ferri. In the past I adored Makarova & Asylmuratova: Their acting and footwork - especially in the mad scene and Act 2 was mind-boggling. In the distant past, (well, my distant past :D) Fracci was peerless. My least favorite was Galina Mezentseva.

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Carla Fracci's Giselle was wonderful in Act 1 -- innocent, beautiful, dewy. But her Act 2 was IMO too cold, icy, and remote. In the video with Erik Bruhn I never sensed the love and compassion she felt for Albrecht. Her final farewell to him didnt leave me in a puddle of tears as it usually does.

I've seen excerpts of Cojocaru's Giselle (Act II) and my it is beautiful.

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Carla Fracci's Giselle was wonderful in Act 1 -- innocent, beautiful, dewy. But her Act 2 was IMO too cold, icy, and remote.

I'm in agreement with you re Fracci's Act 1, though I've only seen her on film. Fracci's Act 2 left me cold too.

Ferri can be divine in Act 2, but she doesn't (now-a-days) quite capture the innocent, fragile, young maiden of Act 1.

I would think Act 2 of Giselle is much more difficult to cast than is Act 1. Lots of dancers are dewy, beautiful, youthful, but not many can transcend the earth. And lately I've been thinking that, acting wise, quality changes, Giselle might be far more difficult to accomplish for a ballerina, than is Swan Lake, from White to Black. Swan Lake is technically more demanding, but Giselle is the greater challenge overall.

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A greater challenge IMO because the dancers can't hide behind lots of steps--they have to act, something few know how to do these days.

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Carla Fracci's Giselle was wonderful in Act 1 -- innocent, beautiful, dewy. But her Act 2 was IMO too cold, icy, and remote.

I'm in agreement with you re Fracci's Act 1, though I've only seen her on film. Fracci's Act 2 left me cold too.

Fracci's Giselle Act II was it's own kind of creation. Of course it's hard to recreate the atmosphere of a stage performance with a film. Fracci's Act II Giselle had almost none of the village girl from Act I.

Try to picture the HUGE romatic tutu, her heavily powered face and arms, the blue black night stage lighting . She was really hardly there at all, but there were just wisps of the village girl coming through. She was almost more illusion than anything else

What you ended up with was this almost completely surreal creature that somehow entered and exited the action. She used just about no facial expression. But she saved Albrecht, almost being unaware of what she was doing.

Is this the only way to do it? Of course not. But it worked for Fracci. No oversize operatic acting, not from Verdi's grandniece (or whatever the relationship is) and it really was magical. I get a little shivery thinking about what it looked like.

This was one of the first Giselles I saw, so like so many things along these lines

first(almost) impressions count for a lot.

Richard

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I think Act 1 is hard to pull off, but it's Act 2 that packs the real emotional punch, and therefore I tend to favor dancers who are successful in Act 2, even if they weren't so successful in Act 1. For instance, Natalia Makarova. Her Act 1 was so-so: well danced, but without much of the wholesome bubbly charm I like in an Act 1 Giselle. But in Act 2, I finally understood why she was a legendary Giselle. I can't watch another Giselle without thinking of the effortless way her leg floated up in her developpes, or her beautiful circular bourreeing offstage at the end. Most of all, you felt the love and compassion she felt for Albrecht. And that was a mean feat too, considering her Albrecht was the miscast and awkward Mikhail Baryshnikov, who looked stoned the entire performance. Many legendary portrayals can't live up to their own legend. Not Makarova.

And which brings me back to the point of why Fracci's Giselle left me cold in Act 2: for me, Act 2 is all about love. Love lost and found and lost again. If a Giselle can't make me feel that she loves Albrecht, that's it for me. When I look at the pictures (and excerpts) of Nureyev and Fonteyn's Giselle, what stands out for me is the love they obviously conveyed towards each other. Fracci doesnt convey love -- she acts like she's already a Wili. Giselle is not yet a Wili. She is still capable of love. That's what's missing for me.

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