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Alicia Alonso's Giselle (1945)


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We often talk about Alicia Alonso on Ballet Talk, and I've always regretted not having seen her in New York City until she was already well into middle age and even beyond that. Most of what we read about Alonso now is totally colored by her remarkable longevity. She has become, more than anything, a monument to survival.

As a correction to our current images of Alonso, here's a portion of a review of her Giselle by David Denby (October 24, 1945) which gives a sense of what she was like as a young woman. [Edited: it's Edwin Denby, as rg points out in the next post. Sorry for the slip.]

Alonso is a delightfully young and a very Latin Giselle, quick, clear, direct in her relation to her lover [danced by Andre Eglevsky). She is passionate rather than sensuous. She is brilliant in allegro, not so convincing in sustained grace. Her plie is not yet a soft and subtly modulated one and this weakens her soaring phrases. She has little patience for those slow-motion, vaporous effectgs that we Northerners find so touching. But there is no fake about her, no staginess. Her points, her young high extensions, her clean line, her lightness in speed, her quick balance are of star quality.

Her first act was the more distinguished of the two in its dramatic interpretation,. She is no tubercular ballerina-peasasnt but a spirited girl who stabs herself. The dance-solo was hidden from me by late-comers, but loudly applauded. The confrontation scene and the mad scene were convincing, simple and large in their miming. In the second act the first whirls were thrilling, and the famous passage of lifts with the following solo of echapppes and spins stopped the show by its cumulative bold, clear speed. If there was little wthat was spectral in the second act, there was nothing that was not vividly young and straighforward.

I haven't seen the Cubans dance in recent years. Is this the effect they still achieve in their Giselles?

(Source: Edwin Denby, Looking at the Dance, a collection of reviews, published in 1968))

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as the source notes, the author here, is EDWIN Denby (not today's movie critic David Denby).

but such automatic writing isn't unprecedented, jennifer dunning told me how often, in her job at the NYTimes getting reviews set up for her then boss Clive Barnes, she would automatically type 'Jennifer Dunning' whenever she was supposed to note that lighting was by Jennifer Tipton.

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Thanks, rg. I added an "edited" note to the original post. :) I love the Jennifer Dunning story. And I certainly identify. There's something about these slips which, once I've made them, compel me to make them again and again. :D

I was wondering whether your wonderful libary of images has anything of Alonso at this period of her career.

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The dancer in the calendar photo of 'Waltz Academy' looks more like Diana Adams, rather than Nana Gollner.

as to Denby's 1945 comments on Alonso's Giselle--I never felt she was a 'very Latin Giselle'--at the time the norm was Alicia Markova who was a most virginal Giselle--so perhaps he is referring to that comparison.

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atm711, I suspect you're right that Denby tended to think of all Giselles in terms of comparison with Markova's, at least in the 40s when his reviews in Looking at the Dance were written. Sometimes he could be quite critical of Markova (almost disappointed and hurt, in fact, that she was not dancing up to par). But she was always the reference point.

Taking the passage on Alonso at face value, I certainly wish I'd seen her dance at this period of her life. rg's photos show a fascinating woman, but one rather more statuesque and grand than I imagine while reading Denby's words.

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