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The Perfect Giselle!

James Wilkie

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Guest John Priddy

Hi James, You opened a very interesting discussion. Please let us know how the performance(s) went.


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Well as promised I said that I would report back as to how some of the Giselle's are doing. Today in the general dress rehearsal Tamara Rojo danced Giselle and as I thought she was abrilliant Giselle in Act 1. She has got the innocence of Giselle perfectly right. In her solo for Bathilde she danced with such energy and her turns were beautifully pulled off- this comes from being taught by the Spanish teacher Victor Ulate, to name another was Angel Corella who also trained with him. I was not able to see her in the second act but I shall report back as soon as I do.

Also to let you all know (confirm) Marianella Nunez shall be performing Peasant pas de deux on Saturday evenings performance. I strongly suggest that if any of you are able to see her then do, she is a beautiful ballerina with incredible gifts.

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Yikes...I make a mistake and before I can redeem myself 20 posts have been submitted. Great topic. Yes, I meant Patrick Bissell. Thanks for standing up for me, Alexandra.

The fact that I am a Makarova person shows you how impressive I found Harvey's performance.


[This message has been edited by Giannina Mooney (edited July 26, 2000).]

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James, of course Asylmuratova is an interesting Giselle, simply because she is an interesting ballerina. Which doesn’t necessarily imply that she should be the “best” Giselle around, whoever that may be.

For that (and going from a Kirov performance in 1997) I found her too sophisticated and refined in the first Act (even the hairstyle was all wrong), actually more sophisticated than her Albrecht and most of the noblemen. Her encounter with Bathilde became in that respect a rather curious and unwarranted scene. It seems to be a trend in this company to accept from the principals a large extent of freedom in style and approach. That may all be very interesting but in many cases it simply misses its goal and in no way enhances the romantic quality a ballet like Giselle still demands.

However, that said, dramatically and emotionally it was still a thrilling performance (not to mention her dancing), with the character fully worked out and with subtle dramatic links between both acts: not many Giselles make in the 1st Act such clear references to their fate in the 2nd, and very few show such profound human feelings in the 2nd. And what was lacking in stylistic sensitivity in the 1st Act, was made good by an exemplary 2nd Act.

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Thank you for telling me about Asylmuratova's performance of Giselle. I am only sorry that it was not as good as I had hoped and thought. Marc did you see Anastasia Volochkova perform Giselle? Did she perform it while she was at the Kirov?

The Royal Ballet are performing Peter Wrights production of Giselle whos version do the Kirov perform and also the Bolshoi? I have only seen little bits of the Bolshois but I thought it to be very good, and she has already been mentioned, Svetlana Lunkina took the lead of Giselle.

Did anyone get to see Fonteyn and Nureyev perform Giselle in 1963? Was it as good as everyone speaks of?

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James, I saw the Fonteyn/Nureyev Giselle often in the early 1960s, though not, alas, their very first performance. And yes, it was as good as everyone says. I think the fact that I remember it so clearly now is significant. Interesting that some people are saying Guillem is too old - Fonteyn was 43! She was an experienced Giselle by then of course, but I have never seen anyone look quite so sweet and girlish at the start. We had never seen anything like Nureyev - neither, obviously, had Fonteyn/Giselle! She had the most extraordinarily expressive face and body; all the emotions, however subtle, somehow communicated to the audience. I've never been able to tell whether this was instinct or art on her part - a bit of both, I suspect, plus the right sort of face.

Nureyev had not at this stage developed the caddish side of the character (see the Albrecht thread on Anything Goes), and I remember him more as a spoilt boy who didn't really realise the harm he was doing until he had done it. His remorse was so real the whole theatre held its breath. Act 2 was so beautiful, most people just wept. It's hard to convey, but we felt as if we'd never really seen Giselle before. With dancers of that stature, the audience doesn't really think about technique - it's there, it's a means of expression.

In spite of these wonderful memories, Giselle is a ballet I am very happy to see other dancers in - I don't sit there saying "Fonteyn and Nureyev were better". Well, not all the time, anyway. It's only in Marguerite and Armand that I really cannot bear to see anyone else - and don't go by the video, it was made too late and is no reflection of the real thing.

I would love to see Rojo's Giselle, but can't get there. I am really curious to know why you say you are not usually a fan of hers. I've never seen her, but have heard only positive things about her, and on the strength of those have booked for her Swan Lake in October.

I've just noticed that you also mention Svetlana Lunkina. I saw her last year, and at first thought she was going to be superb, but although she danced beautifully, I felt she wasn't quite mature enough as an artist to convey the depth of the character. Of course, she has probably improved since then. She is very beautiful, and I thought there was a lot of potential there.

[This message has been edited by Helena (edited July 27, 2000).]

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Guest Annika

I have been reading for a while, but this is the first time I am posting. I have seen many different casts, but I have never been so deeply moved as when I saw Julie Kent and Vladimir Malakhov in "Giselle" at the Met. She was extraordinary in the mad scene- reminded me very much Makarova (could be that she was coached by her?). And Malakhov's Albrecht in my humble opinion is beyond any comparison. I still remember the final gesture - him reaching to the grave and holding a lilly in his hand.

Metropolitan Opera exploded with a standing ovation at the end, which is rather unusual for "Giselle."

A note or a question to the others about Malakhov. When I saw him for the first time in '95 or '96, I was swept by his line, his feet especially(by far the most beautiful feet on any male dancer) and by his classical schooling, but I was under impression that he was not trying hard. Now I came to realize that this is not about the lack of effort. It is because even the most difficult he makes look easy and it even sometimes works against him. Does anyone agree?

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Guest pfmeja

well i saw makarova dance giselle once with alexander godunov and she was just wonderful, also saw gelsey kirkland wtih ross stretton, but this was not very good, unfortunately during one of her bad moments, although i saw her later in sleeping beauty at covent garden and she was extraordinary, sensitive, musical, subtle and alive. saw alonso do it in new york in 1978, and although she was so much older, i still remember thinking that she was beautiful, and don't have any memory of her looking inappropriate (recall actual tears on her face in the mad scene, those impressed me, regardless of how unspontaneous they may have been). i saw a debut by ravenna tucker at covent garden in the 1980s which was sweet but not very focussed, but then it was her first one and i never saw her do it again. i saw asylmuratova at the met last year and trinidad sevillano in boston some years ago, who just made me shiver. (can't describe it any other way). those are the ones that stay readily in my memory.

by the way the library has a snippet of film of fonteyn/nureyev in giselle (act ii) from i believe 1962. might have been a telecast. it was lovely.

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You have raised an interesting topic James. My guess is that a strong element of personal taste enters into your definition of the ideal Giselle. For instance, I could never believe in Besmertnova's portrayal as she seemed to me so timid that she would never have spoken to a strange man in the first place. I guess I've seen nearly all the Royal Ballet casts since about 1968 and Fonteyn with Nureyev apart, the ballerina who really stands out in my mind is Margaret Barbieri who was a dancer with the touring company (now Birmingham Royal Ballet). She was a real High Romantic type and in Act II she could make it seem as if the air around her had more substance than she (if that makes sense). Another really lovely Giselle was Trinidad Sevillano whose first performance I saw. Later she was coached by Gelsey Kirkland and also (I beleive) by Makarova and she appeared to have absorbed what she was told but still give a performance that was entirely her own.


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I love Giselle, and my favorite ballerinas in this role have been Makarova [especially in Act 2, judging by the 1977ish Lincoln Center video with Baryshnikov and Van Hamel] and also Yuan Yuan Tan and Joanna Berman in the new SFB production. All three seem to have "ideal" qualities. Makarova looks absolutely weightless in act 2, while Tan has a youthful innocence in her portrayal and Berman does the most heartbreaking mad scene. Of course, I know there are people who beg to differ, especially about the merits of the SFB production. wink.gif

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OK, so I have come to this thread a bit late. Great Giselles I Have Seen:

Makarova. She owns the role, as far as I'm concerned.

Gelsey. When she on her form.

More recently --

Viviana Durante, guesting with ABT recently. Very powerful and moving.

Diana Vishneva (best of the Kirov ballerinas at the Met last summer).

Honorable Mentions:

Tcherkassky. Alonso (tantalizing glimpses of what she'd been), Tuttle (some strong chemistry with Corella, I guess), Dumchenko, Nioradze, Assylmuratova. McKerrow. Ananiashvili. Ferri.

One that Got Away:

Lynn Seymor (too lazy to see the one she did with Nagy at ABT).

Needs seasoning -- Lunkina. Wonderful first act, unmoving second.

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My first Giselle was Tamara Toumanova, and Svetlana Lunkina my most recent---and there were scores in between.

I think I was born too late for the perfect Giselle---Olga Spessivtseva. Those tantalizing bits of her on film in Act I look very modern to my year 2000 eyes. I don't know how those I have seen in the more recent past would hold up.

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MY favourite Giselle is Carla Fracci in the ABT video, with Erik Bruhn as Albretch (I dont like him very much, though). I believe that hers is a whole rounded performance: moving in the first act (you actually see her tears in the mad scene), technically perfect in the variation AND light and otherworldy in the second act.

Second in my preferences would be Mezentseva (in the Kirov video).

I recently viewed Alessandra Ferri on video, and I like everything about her but for her mad scene, which is rather unconvincing to me.

I wud very much like to see Alonso in video, but have not yet.


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To me, there is only one Giselle - Svetlana Beriosova - both acts.

I saw her live at Covent Garden in her prime years - I was moved to tears. That coming from me - stone heart - is no small compliment.

The other Giselle - only act II on video - that really moved me to tears (same old stone heart) was Maximova-Vasiliev. What disturbed in the first few viewings - I must have seen this video a hundred times or more - was Vasiliev. He somehow looked too strong, too healhty to get involved in all this eerie business. But never mind, he was beautiful - so was she.

Yes, my Giselles...

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One of the best Giselles I have seen was Violette Verdy with Boston Ballet back in the early 70's. Her first act was very muically danced, and her Mad Scene was dramatically intelligent. Her second act was interesting because she was so cold in the beginning (almost like an automaton) and she warmed up and became more human as the act progressed. By the end, she was quite, quite heart-breaking. I regret that I can't remember her Albrecht - but the entire performance was very strong technically so it must have been someone good -

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Hi!!! I have seen 3 Giselles in my life . The fisrt was two years ago with Zhanna Ayupova and Victor Baranov. The second was at last year's summer during the Athens Festival 2002. Bolshoi had come and they danced it with Nadezdha Gracheva and Andrei Uvarov at the roles of Giselle and Albrecht respectively. The third and last was this Christmas with Vladimir Malakhov and Diana Vishneva. Unfortunately I haven't seen any others neither in videos which don't exist here nor in anywhere. From what I have seen, I can say that the BEST Giselle I ever saw as a whole is the one with Malakhov and Vishneva. Yet, the best ballerina for thet titled role was Gracheva. I wish I had seen Malakhov and Gracheva together...!!!!

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Alexandra noted that she never found Makarova "convincing." I must say that I agreed, as far as Makarova's Act I was concerned. Until Motherhood. Seemed to me that after the birth of her son, Makarova found new and convincing ways to connect with the young maidens Juliet and Giselle that had earlier eluded her.

My favorite was Kirkland. You were never sure in Act I if she was actually in the physical realm, anyway. I remember one mad scene when she lifted the sword, pointing it toward her heart with such an expression of ecstasy on her face -- very scary! And another (her final one, as I recall) in which she appeared to do nothing at all but slowly pace the stage, and yet her unravelling was unmissable. And of course, she had that incredible final Act I moment of running to Albrecht, and visibly dying in that split second between her last step and Albrecht's embrace of her.

I was astonished by the Act II pas that reunited at 60-something Alonso with a 70-something Youskevitch at an ABT gala. Impossible to believe that they hadn't danced together in over 20 years, they were such a unit. The love between them was palpable. A major highlight of my career as a balleto.

When I saw Ayupova emerge from her cottage in the only Giselle I ever saw her do (her Act II was a little earthbound), I drew a little gasp of recognition. That was the actual face of Giselle! It just seemed so inevitable, and of course, that is a highly subjective response.

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Verdy was my first Giselle, so of course she holds a special place in my heart.

Makarova, as Manhattnik said, owns the role. Though I loved Kirkland (who was amazing), and Tcherkassky (so pretty), I long to see someone today who can move me in a similar, or new way.

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Fonteyn was my first Giselle,--my grandmother took me-- and she sets the standard for me. The part of the performance I can still see in my mind's eye--and at the time I went, it didn't occur to me that I might be interested in remembering it more than thirty years later--is the mad scene. The break from decorum, the letting down of the hair, the circling with the sword, those little desparate runs and leaps, the breaking down in her mother's arms, the onset of real madness. She was marvelous. Nureyev was Albrecht, about which I recall nothing. ... In response to a previous post: As it happens, I saw Jorge Esquivel partner Alicia Alonso in one of her very very very late career performances. His partering was beyond inventive. (As a side issue, the worst Giselle I ever saw was Starr Danias, touring in a Victorian era period production star vehicle.) Maybe we should have a favorite Albrecht thread. Then we could talk about the whole deal with the cape and the grave.

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Originally posted by Nanatchka

Fonteyn was my first Giselle,--my grandmother took me-- and she sets the standard for me. The part of the performance I can still see in my mind's eye--and at the time I went, it didn't occur to me that I might be interested in remembering it more than thirty years later--is the mad scene.

I recall Susan Jaffe from just a few years ago in a riveting mad scene--but she had inhabited the role so completely that I was completely taken with her even before that.

When the hunting horn sounded, heralding the entrance of the royal group, I felt horrible--"Oh, no, she is going to be hurt." I can remember actually wishing that the King and Queen wouldn't make their entrance, allowing Gisele/Jaffe to remain happy.

The mad scene was enthralling--at one point she appear to stumble for a split-second on the sword before she picked it up. Heart in the mouth time, at least for this member of the audience.

Jaffe's Gisele was one of those extended. oments in the theatre when I had to remind myself to breathe.

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My favorite Giselle has been my favorite Noëlla Pontois. She was my second one. My first one (I was six) was Claude de Vulpian, and I remember I wasn't too impressed with her . My parents took me to see the cast she was dancing in because at that time like a lot of little girls I was a very big fan of Patrick Dupont who was her Albrecht that afternoon and I saw only him !

But since my parents wanted to see Nureev, we came back again and Nureev was dancing with Melle Pontois and for me it was a revealation ! She was just Giselle, and I remember during the mad scene I believed she had really became mad ! Her daughter Miteki also said once in an interview she had been under that impression the first time she saw her into the mad scene.

Today, I can still see her in Giselle.

And my favorite Giselle in the POB now is Elisabeth Maurin, who is very much into the character, she can make you cry when she's dancing it. You aren't under the impression she's playing someone (I saw Sylvie Guillem in Giselle, and tought she was playing too much, and wasn't really into Giselle), she's Giselle !

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