I saw Moscow Festival Ballet's "Giselle" last night, a dreary cold rainy Tuesday night in Storrs, CT at Jorgensen Auditorium at University of Connecticut. It was the sort of weather that brings out injuries in dancers, so I am grateful for any effort they made, particularly on this stage. I have to explain that although the University of Connecticut built this auditorium from scratch as a performing arts venue, the sight lines from the orchestra do not allow the expensive seats to see the dancers below the knees unless one is in the very back of the house where there are some risers, and the balcony is so very far back from the stage that is difficult to see the dancers, the sound system is so-so, and there is no fly-space... so production values of touring companies are severely limited... and this company or it's sister business entity, the Russian National Ballet, come through this space once a year, so they are aware of the limitations before they arrive. Also, on a series of one-night-stands, it is probably a challenge to get much going as far as lighting is concerned. Jorgensen did not include the casting in the program, so I hope the dancers manning the concession stands understood me when I asked for the names. I managed to call Hillarion "Gurn" but luckily she just blinked... and when I clarified, the huntsman suitor of Giselle, gave me a name.
For Coppelia, this means no balcony for the doll. For Giselle, it seemed to mean only one hut, to no hut for Albrecht to hide his aristocratic signifiers.
So.. usually, I do not expect much in terms of production values...
However, the last time I caught this company's Giselle, the corps de ballet was so gorgeous that the Willis were worth the ticket price regardless of sets & lights... and I have told people to come, because despite the limitations the dancers are beautifully trained.
The men carried this Giselle.
The Albrecht, Evgeniy Rudakov, was worth the ticket... beautiful danseur noble elegant line... expressive epaulement, every gesture and port de bras evolving from his back... lovely soaring arc to grand jetés, sensitive partnering. A true artist, he was faithful to his art despite the lowly surrounds, giving us a poetic expression of this old classic. Often in the variation with the Willis, I find many Albrechts master the turning leaps only to misunderstand and overdo the cambrés on landing, looking awkward. Rudakov's cambrés swept from the landing of the jump in a way that made perfect visual sense, with never a loss of grace.
The Hilarion, Dmitry Sitkevich, carried the show with his heartfelt acting... while Albrecht, as an aristocrat, has to be somewhat restrained in his expression, Hilarion has no such restrictions. We totally believed him, and frankly his acting made up for the rest of the dancers... I would go see this man dance any story ballet. The roar that greeted him at bows showed the audience agreed with me. It was louder than the status of the role normally garners, proving that there are no small roles when the dancer is great enough.
The Giselle, I did not ask for her name. She had some lovely moments, toward the end of the ballet, but she left me pretty cold. I think she might have been dealing with an injury because she took the famous Spessitseva hops en pointe from the opposite diagonal, only did 4 in a row before breaking it up with a pas de bourrée, and fell out out even those. She was not having a good day. The weather might have been to blame, but she definitely "was not feeling it" last night.
The Peasant Pas de Deux, danced by Aleksandra Krukova and Sergey Kotov, was fine... I applaud Kotov for opening with those lovely double cabrioles, for giving more than one would expect to see at this venue... and Krukova hung a lovely triple tour piqué en dedans...
Alas, the corps de ballet's training was very uneven. It could be the space and the lack of rehearsal in it, or the ghastly weather, but they were often not together. I had been looking forward to the arabesque voyagé section, so transcendent the last time around, but it was nothing here... hopping instead of graceful, not together. I kept wondering if there had been injuries and they had filled in with some domestic dancers... some of the girls in the corps had that beautiful Vaganova grace, and others were just kind of clumsy. Sadly, these less-than-ideal dancers were not on the periphery, but front and center, making them hard to miss. There is that lovely part in the Willis where they pair up, holding hands, circle each other with a step piqué double frappé side (or something like?)... well, some of the dancers bothered to do the double beat, and others just skipped it... it was just kind of sloppy. I kept thinking I've seen smaller regional companies do better with this, and in the past the training of the dancers of this company has been so beautiful... I don't know if word has gotten out about how grueling the tours are, or things are not as desperate in Russin as they were a dozen or so years ago or what, but it was not good. Of course, and American company would have go on strike if the program did not bother to list the cast... so, probably we will never see the smaller regional companies touring the college circuit. I miss the old days when the National Endowment for the Art funded a lot of touring by American companies. I sound nationalistic here, and I'm not really, the Russians are often lovely, and populate American companies too... It's just that out here in the hinterlands, the public is exposed to so little ballet, there are ballet students who have only heard of Misty Copeland (on talk shows and commercials) and the girls on Dance Moms... Copeland is okay --at least they have heard of her -- but they need to see a full ballet live on stage, not an abbreviated segment on a television show... there is so much more to it.. they so badly need to see the art form faithfully presented as originally intended.
Forgot to mention the scenery, costumes and lighting. I don't think it's fair to talk about the sets given the limitations of the space, so I'm not going to talk about that backdrop, the singular hut, or the cross. The costumes were fine, although for peasants the emphasis on a bright pink and gauzy costumes made one sure these were originally intended for Coppelia. The pink leggings for the men seemed odd too. The duchess's gold lamé probably doubles for the Queen mother in Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. Perhaps the LED lights were not cooperative, but the Dawn that arrives makes one think "Red Skies in Morning, Albrecht take Warning" (which considering the night he just had, might have seemed appropriate), rather than the redemption and safety of morning.