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The Most Unlikely Giselle I have Seen.


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We all have our favorite Giselles, but here I would like to talk about "the most unlikely Giselle I have seen". My nominee is Mia Slavenska, a Yugoslav ballerina who danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

Her emergence from the grave is indelibly imprinted in my head. Her bouffant, blindingly-white tutu glistened in the subdued light and the V-neck off-the-shoulder bodice plunged to her waist; her alabaster shoulders were topped by a head covered with flaming red hair (coiffed in the ballerina over-the-ear style--no top-knots here!) From what I have read of Fanny Elssler, I think she must have been her re-incarnation. The audience gasped, most of us chuckled. But being the artist she was, she did "pull-it-off" and gave an engrossing performance. She gave her Albrecht (Frederic Franklin, of all people) a good run for his money. The performance I saw was in 1948 at the old Met Opera in NY and was one of the many "last-ditch" efforts of BRMC to reorganize. Markova danced that season and Danilova was a truly memorable Myrtha. The season was topped off with "Pas de Quatre" with Markova (Taglioni), Slavenska (Grisi), Krassovska (Grahn) and Danilova (Cerrito).

She is perhaps best remembered as the ballerina in the film "La Mort du Cygne" (1938) -- the one about the "petit rat" who injured the ballerina so her favorite (Chauvire) could dance. For every Giselle I have seen rising from the grave -- Slavenska is still there for me in her blinding light, if only for a few seconds.

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A few years ago, two friends of mine went to the Dance Collection's video library on a slow day and had a "Don Q" competition, just for fun. They watched all the tapes they could find of the Don Q pas de deux. They said Slavenska won, hands down. Best technique, best aura, most sex appeal, best everything. Always wanted to see her.

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Edith, the video library is open to the public, but you have to book a chunk of time (last time I was there, it was two hours) well in advance, and you have to go there knowing exactly what you want to see, or you'll spend part of that two hours looking in a catalogue to find it.

Manhattnik, I don't know if it's open at present. The "party" took place in the good old days when the collection was less crowded. I understand that these days it's jammed with dancers trying to learn their roles from videos.


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The projected reopening in Lincoln Center is in August, 2000. The temporary quarters for research material are at the library annex on 43rd St between 10th & 11th. The circulating material is at the Mid Manhattan Branch on 40th St/5th Ave. And I haven't been in the temporary quarters but I always found the library a treasure trove and rarely unmanageably crowded. It's a wonderful place.

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