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ABT's Giselle, May 11

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I'd read about how much-improved ABT's corps was in Washington, so I had high hopes when I went to the Met to see Nina Ananiashvili and Julio Bocca in the first Giselle of the season. Well, I thought the corps looked good enough, but not spectacular.

While I enjoy, even love, Ananiashvili's dancing on many levels, I've often found there's just a bit of the "generic-International-Superstar" to some of the performances she and Bocca turn in, and this Giselle was no exception. It was a fine, carefully realized performance with many lovely, even gorgeous moments (she's a heartbreaking naif in the first act, and almost immaterial in the second), I didn't feel much of any emotion between the pair, and this might be more Bocca's responsibility than Ananiashvili's. Bocca seems to be getting coarser and more erratic every season, and while he didn't seem to be making up Albrecht's solos as he went along (as he does sometimes in Don Quixote, say), there were moments, such as in a rather abrupt transition to a piroutte preparation, where he was quite jarring.

In the Peasant Pas, Herman Cornejo was quite clean and spectacular (his cabrioles drew bigger gasps from the audience than Bocca's), and Xiomara Reyes, a short, dark woman with the kind of large face, eyes and smile the stage loves, was strong, clean and charming.

Gillian Murphy's Myrtha was also strong and clean (although she didn't throw hereself into those big circular Romantic ports de bras with quite enough enthusiasm to my eye), and yet, though she was appropriately cold and distant, she also seemed rather disconnected from the action. I don't think she necessarily decided to do an overly aloof Myrtha; it's just that her natural demeanor turns Myrtha (as it does most of Murphy's roles) into the Dryad Queen.

A few little glitches: Nina dropped the sword during the Mad Scene, but quickly recovered it, even though it required a bit of quick improvising. And what's with that non-breaking myrtle branch?

In Act II, Ananiashvili responded to the huge and well-deserved applause after her big solo with a typical "in-character" bow -- fluttering back onstage, posing in a pique arabesque while the crowd roars, then flitting off again. So far so good. But after her little allegro solo, where she flies offstage in those big grande jetes (with Bocca trotting after, so he can get ready for his brise volees), the conductor and wilis kept moving right along into the next bit, while Nina trotted out for yet another hanging-in-arabesque bow. Doubtless she noticed the wilis in motion around her as she scampered offstage quickly indeed for a wraith.

I loved the way she seemed drawn to Bocca at the very end of the Act II pad de deux in front of the Wilis, as if she were utterly without weight or mass and was simply being pulled along in his wake, as he walked downstage and kneeled.

I'm beginning to think that Ananiashvili is a better Odette/Odile than Giselle. Thoughts, anyone?

[ 05-12-2001: Message edited by: Manhattnik ]

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Thanks for that, Manhattnik. A quick clarification from one Washingtonian. To my eye, the corps improved in "Giselle" compared to their performance in "Theme and Variations" in the mixed bill this season. I think one reason why "Giselle" may have made a greater impression down here was that the last four times we've seen the company have been, in reverse order, "Nutcracker," "Swan Lake," "The Merry Widow" and "Coppelia." And several triple bills that really did not show the company at its best. That's a long dry spell.

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I saw the Saturday matinee of "Giselle" with Julie Kent and Jose Manuel Carreno. I find myself agreeing with the Washington D.C. talkers about what a great ballet it was. I've always been impressed with Julie Kent as a dancer, so her beautiful second act didn't surprise me. But I was amazed at how wondeful her acting was, especially in Act I. She was utterly convincing as a shy, innocent Giselle. When she found out that Albrecht had betrayed her, you could see her heart break right on stage.

I've usually thought of Jose Manuel Carreno as a technically powerful dancer, and his Albrecht certainly did not disapoint me in this regard. His double assemble turns and cabrioles in the second act were very impressive. But I was pleasantly surprised at how well Carreno acted the part of Albrecht. In Act I he was a very young nobleman who really loved Giselle (or at least he thought he did), and he was devastated by her death. In the second act his sense of grief and loss showed clearly through his sensational dancing.

Michele Wiles was a icy Myrtha with a regal manner and a great leap. Ethan Brown as always was very moving as the rough woodsman Hilarion. I was especially impressed by the clarity of his mime (a lost art today it seems). And I thought the corps in Act II was wonderful - as I did when I saw them last year in "La Bayadere".

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Oh, I forgot to answer Manhattnik's questions about Nina A. being a better Odette/Odile than a Giselle. I only saw her in "Giselle" once, but I really didn't think it was her role. I thought Nina A. was much more effective in "Swan Lake", "Le Corsaire" and especially "Don Quixote". For one thing, I think Nina's a better dancer than an actress. And even more she's too strong, too powerful for "Giselle". She lacks that waif-like quality I think Giselle needs. I really couldn't buy Nina A's "Giselle" having a weak heart. It was the same problem I had with Cynthia Gregory's "Giselle" many years ago. (And Cynthia Gregory was a superby Swan Queen.)

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I always think of Nina A. more as an allegro than adagio dancer. I agree with with Colleen that she's exetremely dazzling in Don Q, La Corsaire and Swan Lake. Even within Swan Lake, I think she's more effective as Odile than Odette.

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Well, last night with Dvorovenko/Belotserkovsky the corp looked much, much better. I thought they were good in Act I, and very good in Act II. Unlike Friday, this time the whole Wilis bit, from Myrtha's entrance to the end of their "divertissment" was a breathless rush. Murphy was much, much better, regal and icy indeed, and I was particularly impressed with the Zulma of Carmen Corella who, unlike Michelle Wiles as Moyna, remembered she's supposed to be a ghost.

I was a bit surprised that I came away from the performance much more impressed with Belotserkovsky than Dvorovenko (whom I adore in the right roles -- here's a real Odette/Odile if there ever was one!). But more on that later.

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I was actually quite dazzled by whole sections of Dvorovenko's Act II -- she has such an extraordinary jump. At moments she really looked (to me) as if she were flying and floating weightlessly. And at the most exciting moments, the dance seemed to compel her rather than the other way around. Like Manhattnik, though, I thought Act II was certainly the stronger Act.

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As much as I love Dvorovenko in other things, I have to say that as Giselle, she's a good Kitri. In Act I, I got little sense of who Giselle was, what made her interesting to Albrecht, or Albrecht to her. It seemed like they just had to get together, as they had the two whitest smiles in the village.

Belotserkovsky was wonderful, I thought. He's got beautiful line and princely style, and danced his solos flawlessly. He played Albrecht very much as an impetuous Princeling following his feelings until he's in way over his head before he knows it. I always knew what his character was doing and thinking at any time, and he had many nice touches, such as his passionate, mimed importuning of Wilfred to do something when the hunting party returns after Hilarion exposes Albrecht's deception.

I did find a bit overdone Belotserkovsky's mime when the hunting party is about to appear for the first time. He hears the horns, then takes a few steps towards Giselle's cottage. "Wait, they might go in there and find me." He then takes a few steps towards his own cottage. "Wait, I can't go in there. Hilarion's going to sneak in there and find my sword in a minute." Then he lets us know he's just had a brilliant idea by snapping his fingers: "I've got it -- I'll hide in the wings. They'll never think of looking for me there!"

I thought Belotserkovsky was a great partner in Act II, and danced his solos beautifully. And he acknowledged the audience's applause after collapsing to the stage at the end of his big solo by reaching to Myrtha, not by turning to the audience while supine, as does Carreno (it looks way too silly).

As for Dvorovenko, while she certainly had her technically impressive moments in Act II, this is not a role where the ballerina should be hitting us over the head with her technical prowess. I remember Makarova would use her great balance to appear to float in the air, so Albrecht could see her. Dvorovenko uses her great balance to let us know she has a great balance. Similarly, with her entrechats and changements that brought down the house, these steps are not a place to have the conductor slow the tempo way, way down so one can show off one's great elevation. Bravura really has no place in this ballet, and all I could think of saying, after repeated demonstrations of Dvorovenko's brilliance, was, "Not bad for a dead girl."

I found the way Dvorovenko chose to play Giselle's very last moments onstage, before returning to the grave, as a good example of a very questionable decision on when to show off her technique. As Albrecht throws himself at her feet, she reaches down to him for her final farwell... and drops into an over-the-top, six-o'clock penchee. So we have the charming final image of Giselle bidding farewell to Albrecht with her foot floating somewhere up in the stratosphere. (Most ballerinas are quite content to be merely standing in tendu back at this moment.)

Perhaps it was just her way of letting Albrecht know it was time to go home, in which case the poor girl's just as bad at counting the clock as she is daisy petals.

[ 05-21-2001: Message edited by: Manhattnik ]

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I would agree that one of the problems with Dvorovenko's Act II is that it tends to fall into a series of gorgeous bits, though I find more to admire than Manhattnik. But I would defend the arabesque penche -- with the arm extended towards Albrecht -- at the ballet's end. It did not seem like a trick to me, but an image that suggested Giselle's divided being at that moment. She yearns earthward towards Albrecht and the pull of gravity, but is drawn skyward towards heaven and the world of spirit. (I did think that, as she's on a ramp and has to anchor herself on the cross while she performs the arabesque, she should work on disguising the dependence on the cross more completely. She almost had it, but not quite...)

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