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Tall Giselles


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#1 canbelto

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Posted 12 March 2006 - 10:58 AM

I've always thought of Giselle as the most "emploi" based role. I can accept a lot of different Odette/Odiles, but with Giselle I only really want one type of dancer: someone who's perky and innocent in Act 1, and then otherworldly and lyrical in Act 2. And I've noticed that most of the famous Giselles have been short or at least simply medium-height. Natalia Makarova, Alicia Markova, Gelsey Kirkland, Elisabeth Maurin, Alina Cojocaru, Irina Kolpakova, Alessandra Ferri, Margot Fonteyn, Alicia Alonso, Carla Fracci ... Even Diana Vishneva, who's become a very famous Giselle in the past two years or so, is only medium-height, especially compared to the rest of the MT ballerinas. More than height, I think of Giselle as a role where the ballerina must be "light." Don't know how else to describe it, but someone like Vishneva, although long and leggy like most modern ballerinas, is very light on her feet. Light, airy jumps, quick, light arabesques. Cojocaru, Kirkland, Ferri, and Makarova et al are very light dancers. The only exception I can think of is Olga Spessivtseva, who from pictures at least looked very long, leggy, and tall, especially compared to other ballerinas of her time.

I really can't imagine a tall, majestic dancer like Svetlana Zakharova, Agnes Letestu, Elisabeth Platel, Syvlie Guillem, Darcey Bussell, Cynthia Gregory, or Veronika Part being Giselles. Non-tall dancers like Gillian Murphy or Maya Plisetskaya I can't imagine as Giselle either, because they too have a heavy, noble, regal, majestic bearing. Yet I know it happens. I just haven't seen it.

So ... for those of you who have seen tall, regal dancers as Giselle ... what happened? Do they become believable if they are good enough actresses/dancers? Do you forget about the height? Or do they simply look miscast? I'm genuinely curious.

#2 carbro

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Posted 12 March 2006 - 03:22 PM

Interesting question, canbelto. Thanks!

I think Kirkland's legs, proportionate to her height, are the longest of all the dancers you've mentioned above, yet she was, IMO, THE Giselle of her generation.

I don't think height is as important a factor as the ability to convey fragility -- both physically and emotionally. That is why Cynthia Gregory's was -- and Gillian Murphy's probably would be -- so unconvincing.

I only saw Alonso's Giselle live very late in her career, and while she did not have the perishablility of a Kirkland or Makarova, her artistry was profound enough to convey that characteristic. Alonso, btw, was not particularly small. I was under the impression that Spessivtzeva was rather petite.

Susan Jaffe was on the tall side of medium, and she grew into a very good Giselle. My only complaint about her farewell performance was that her Albrecht, Jose Carreno, loved her too much.

I prefer an interpretation that deemphasizes the differences between the girl and the wili. The best Giselles, IMO, are naive, but not "perky," and able to foreshadow her tragedy from the first entrance.

BTW, you did not mention Zhanna Ayupova. I thought she had the perfect looks for Giselle. She has an ordinary and innocent prettiness. Not a head-turning beauty, still girlish (although she was still quite young when she did it in New York).

#3 canbelto

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Posted 12 March 2006 - 04:17 PM

Hi Carbro, I forgot to mention Ulanova, who was certainly not sylph-like either, and neither was Alonso. But at least from videos, what they did bring to Giselle was a certain earthiness. Most Giselles bound out of the house jumping and leaping in a pretty blue dress, and you think that if there was a village pageant, they'd win. But Alonso and Ulanova have that ordinariness which I think is very special. And of course, they were light on their feet, with a purity and grace of movement.

Anyway, when I meant "perkiness" I didnt mean a cheerleader personality, I meant a kind of bubbly, innocent sweetness. Would have loved to see Sibley or Asylmuratova because both dancers I think of as very radiant and sweet performers. I think Giselle only works if you see this sweet, innocent, loving girl crumble before your very eyes. In Act 2, I still want to see that purity and innocence. She's not a Wili because bitterness and revenge aren't in her vocabulary. That's why I don't think tall, majestic, haughty dancers would work in this role, and I'm genuinely curious to see if any of them managed to be convincing. Height particularly I see as a problem in Giselle because I picture Giselle as significantly younger than Berthe or Albrecht. She's like the sweet young teen, while Albrecht, Hilarion, et al have all been around the block a few times. So a Giselle that towers over everyone (like Zakharova or Bussell) I just can't imagine. Not saying Giselle has to be Kirkland/Markova/Makarova/Cojocaru tiny, but a 5'9" Giselle I'd have a hard time picturing. Also haughty/regal dancers like Murphy or Guillem or Platel.

#4 carbro

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Posted 12 March 2006 - 07:40 PM

I don't see why Giselle should be smaller than Berthe. How old is she? Fifteen? Sixteen? It's not at all unusual that daughters that age have already outgrown their normal-size mothers.

#5 Amy Reusch

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Posted 12 March 2006 - 08:20 PM

Yes, but if she's bigger than her mother, it seems less believable that her mother is trying to protect her fragile daughter, scolding her for dancing... if the daughter towered over her mother, it would seem she was thriving not ailing, wouldn't it?

#6 Hans

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Posted 12 March 2006 - 09:10 PM

Is Lynn Seymour tall? Probably not particularly so, I imagine, considering that she danced with Nureyev. But I think Seymour is more along the lines of the original concept of Giselle as a perfectly healthy peasant girl who chooses to kill herself (as opposed to just dying of a broken heart). I think we discussed that in the Giselle forum a while ago.

#7 Jane Simpson

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Posted 13 March 2006 - 02:02 AM

Svetlana Beriosova, who was tall for her day (about 5'7" I think), was a wonderful Giselle. I think it's such a great role that it will bear many different interpretations, including a less-than-innocent first act - Tamara Rojo's from a couple of years ago, for instance.

#8 FauxPas

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Posted 13 March 2006 - 07:12 AM

Another factor is sophistication. Certain ballerinas project a worldly, knowing quality which is antithetical to what Giselle is. Susan Jaffe initially was too sophisticated for Giselle and was a better Myrtha but in her last performance with ABT she had grown into an actress who could disappear into her roles. She was very, innocent, coltish and fragile and she was over forty at the time. I think some of the French ballerinas probably project too much sophistication and urban polish to play Giselle Act I convincingly. Vishneva's initial Giselle with the Kirov in NYC was also too sophisticated and generalized in interpretation but she has now worked out a very individual and convincing Act I characterization - a little wild and rebellious but also trusting and vulnerable.

One factor is that if a dancer is tall but long limbed and willowy thin, she can suggest a coltish delicate girl and then a wraith in the second act. One dancer is Galina Mezentseva who appears close to death already in Act I of the Kirov "Giselle" video (no DVD transfer yet) from the 1980's with Konstantin Zaklinsky as Albrecht. She probably by nature and physicality would have been a Myrtha but obviously was working against her natural emploi. Maya Plisetskaya was also a Giselle but earlier on had been a definitive Myrtha. I am sure Maya was very dramatic and big-scaled in the mad scene. I saw Svetlana Zakharova's Giselle with the Kirov around 1998 or so and she was quite young and lovely in it. I hadn't liked her Aurora but her long legs, floating high extensions (better for Romantic ballet than for pure classicism), long arms and delicate beauty made her a very convincing and appropriate Giselle in both acts.

One thing is that some of these Giselle's who are miscast in Act I which depends a lot on acting and interpretation can do very well in Act II which is pure dance that projects a dramatic message through choreography and images. I am sure that Plisetskaya was very exciting when she whipped around after being revived by Myrtha and her jetés were out of this world.

#9 anin

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Posted 13 March 2006 - 12:56 PM

Maya Plisetskaya never danced Giselle. She was a marvelous Myrtha by all accounts and in her book she mentions that she was always paired with Ulanova as Giselle.
Plisetskaya actually says in her autobiography that Giselle is the only major part,that she never danced,and
that wasn't because she wouldn't be given that part( Bolshoi was quite more liberal than Kirov in those days,when it came to a question of " emploi "),but something inside her resisted.If she wanted to dance Giselle very much,she probably could,but she never wanted. I think it was very smart of her,because she definately would have been a miscast,as she actually was as Princess Aurora.She should have stuck with the Lilac Fairy.

#10 dirac

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Posted 13 March 2006 - 01:49 PM

canbelto writes: The only exception I can think of is Olga Spessivtseva, who from pictures at least looked very long, leggy, and tall, especially compared to other ballerinas of her time.

I don’t know how tall Spessivtzeva was, but on the very small bit of film I saw of her as Giselle she looks not only tall but like a strong, hearty peasant girl.


Didn't Martine van Hamel dance Giselle as well as Myrtha? Did anyone see her?

#11 carbro

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Posted 13 March 2006 - 03:18 PM

Martine did exactly two Giselles -- the season that ABT presented two weeks each of Giselle and Coppelia. Many of her fans (self included) were frustrated that she was never given the opportunity to develop the role, because as La Sylphide, she was able to embody the lightness and otherworldliness intrinsic to both ballets so well. Gosh, she was a beautiful Sylph! Not a huge jump, but what a cushy plie!

#12 Pamela Moberg

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Posted 13 March 2006 - 04:18 PM

Yes, Jane, I agree with you one hundred per cent. There never was a finer Giselle than Beriosova - she was wonderful in both acts. Some other dancers I have seen have been good in act I and then indifferent in act II or vice versa. But to this day, I do cherish my memory of Beriosova. It is a few years ago now... Will I ever in my lifetime see anyone as wonderful? Doubt it very much.


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