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"Giselle" x 3


sasark
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Last year, I learned through this forum that Natalia Osipova would be dancing in "Giselle" this April with la Scala. Since I had never seen her, I bought a ticket to her performance with David Hallberg (who, because of an injury, was replaced by Sergei Polunin). I also bought tickets for two other nights of the run: One was to feature Svetlana Zakharova and Roberto Bolle. The other was advertised as featuring simply "artists of la Scala."


Now that I'm back, I thought I'd relay a few observations about the production and each cast. So, without further delay....


Night One, April 8

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Giselle - Lusymay Di Stefano

Albrecht - Antonino Sutera

Myrtha - Alessandra Vassallo


When I was buying my tickets, I hesitated about shelling out 100+ euro for this particular performance, since it didn't feature any big headliners. But I decided to take a chance, and I'm glad I did.


When Lusymay Di Stefano skipped onto the stage, I knew I was in good hands. From the start, the 21-year-old Sicilian ballerina showed great stage presence, vivacity, and charm. She began with a confident, joyous entrance. Shortly afterward, she went into a steady, satisfying balance in arabesque. I thought she had good port de bras and, after her hopping on pointe, she impressed with a series of fast, evenly spaced turns around the stage. Her mad scene was well executed and reasonably convincing, despite a small hair malfunction (her hair started coming undone early -- her mother tried to refasten it surreptitiously, but it still began tumbling down a bit ahead of cue). Overall, Di Stefano was great in Act I: completely convincing as the charming, high-spirited girl who could catch the eye of a prince.


For me, her Albrecht was a little less exciting. Sutera had strength and grace, but I thought his dancing seemed a bit manic at times. His giant, unvarying grin throughout Act I lacked nuance, and I didn't think his footwork as sharp as Di Stefano's. It seemed to me he has potential, but he might need to mature a bit.


Act II was ushered in by the pearl-like bourres of Alessandra Vassallo's Myrthe. A petite dancer, Vassallo nevertheless conveyed sternness and foreboding. She wasn't perfect -- she seemed to waver ever so slightly during one of the initial flat-footed balances, and I wasn't overwhelmed by her leaps. Still, she performed cleanly and well, and she effectively conveyed a sense of power and magic. She was backed up by a fine complement of willis. The la Scala corps was well synchronized and demonstrated good form, particularly during the scene when they are welcoming Giselle into their midst and during the scene when they are ending Hilarion.


As dead, sad Giselle, Di Stefano was not quite as strong as she had been before. Her portrayal here started just a bit shaky; she does a developpe shortly after encountering Albrecht, and in this, she seemed a bit unsteady, leaning over pretty far to the right to get her leg up into the air, and ending up with her arms, in the fifth position, not really forming a perfect frame for her face (her head was not in the center of the oval formed by her arms). Other than that, I thought she did a serviceable job throughout the act. But I didn't feel that she told a story in this act. Her first act was definitely stronger.


Sutera plays sad better than happy, but in Act II I still thought he lacked fluidity. He did more than 32 entrechat sixes, but I was surprised to see him begin punching the air toward the end. (I assume that helps give the dancer more momentum to continue going up?)


As far as the production goes, I thought the sets were good, but the costumes a mixed bag. Giselle had had a great Act I costume. It was traditional blue and white, but it was prettier than this dress sometimes is. Meanwhile, the peasants' outfits were an unattractive orange and, strangely, so were the dresses of many in the royal court. I found it odd that there wasn't more of a contrast between the clothes of the wealthy and those of the poor. I also was surprised that Giselle (or anyone) could admire the heavy mustard-colored brocade that Bathilde wore. Speaking of Bathilde, she looked older than Albrecht and I had to consult my program to be sure that she was in fact supposed to be his fiance and not his mother. In Act II, Giselle's bodice did not fit well, and I thought that Albrecht's costume made him look too feminine.


The theater is a little smaller than I was expecting, but that's not necessarily bad. It's more intimate the Vienna's Staatsoper, though similar in color scheme and style, with dark-red and gold decor. Many old European theaters have a painted ceiling, but La Scala has a more understated, textured cream-colored ceiling. All in all, it was a great venue for "Giselle," and this first night was the perfect start to my week in Milan.


Next: Svetlana Zakharova and Roberto Bolle


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I'm so glad you decided to see this performance, with artists on their home turf. It's thrilling to see the big names, of course, but here's a chance to watch a family dance together.

Hair -- it's always a crapshoot!

Act 2 is such a tricky challenge for both Giselle and Hilarion -- she has to look like she could jump forever and he has to look like he's fading without really dropping out.

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Thanks for your comments Sandik! Yeah, I'm really glad I went, too. I wasn't sure if three nights of the same production would be too much, but it definitely wasn't, and it was great being able to see three different casts.

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Thanks for your comments Sandik! Yeah, I'm really glad I went, too. I wasn't sure if three nights of the same production would be too much, but it definitely wasn't, and it was great being able to see three different casts.

Seeing multiple performances really close together is such a boon. I know that most of us watch and rewatch work on video, but seeing something live in this situation gives such insight onto the work, the production and the performers. Of course, you run the risk of having the score embedded in your brain, but with Swan Lake that's not much of a hardship!

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Night Two - April 9

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Giselle - Svetlana Zakharova
Albrecht - Roberto Bolle
Myrtha - Nicoletta Manni

I arrived early at La Scala for my second "Giselle," and the entrance to the theater was already teeming with people (all fabulously dressed, of course!). There was a definite buzz in the air, as people crowded into the lobby, bought their programs, and took their seats for the performance, which had been sold out for months.

If it wasn't yet clear that Bolle and Zakharova are much-loved in Milan, then it certainly became apparent during the first five minutes of the performance. As Bolle bounded onto the stage, he got a roaring welcome from the audience. It was exciting! A few moments later, Zakharova was also welcomed warmly.
It was my first time watching either Bolle or Zakharova live, and it was pretty amazing. He had tremendous stage presence, and he made everything look easy. During one of the opening variations, Albrecht does a series of steps that include leaps landing in arabesque, moving from downstage left to upstage right; then he returns doing a series of other steps that includes an entrechat six and an arabesque in attitude. The previous night, when Sutera did this sequence, I thought it looked jerky, and Sutera's landings left him bouncing up and down a little. When Bolle performed the variation, it was rich and plush -- everything well executed, deftly finished, just no problem! And throughout it, he was 100% in character, apparently thinking of nothing but Giselle and how to charm her.
In turn, Zakharova showed great attention to detail in everything she did. During the hops on pointe, she slowly brought her arms up in a beautifully controlled way. She was light and graceful during all of the opening scenes, and her turns were fast and flawless.
On top of this, I was really struck by how great Bolle and Zakharova look together. With his height and movie-star looks, and her slender, delicate frame, they complement each other. Plus, they seem to have an easy intimacy that I imagine is born from many years of dancing together. This rapport paid off during the whole piece, but especially during her death scene, which was genuinely moving, and during Act II, where their connection helped convey the sense that these were still the same characters, despite all of the changes. I especially liked their first interaction together during Act II: when he's visiting her grave and she's sort of there and then not there. He did a great job looking haunted, and she was impressive as the ghost, showing up and then drifting away, before they finally danced together.
I enjoyed Zakharova quite a bit in Act II, because this act really showed off her elegance. She looked light and ethereal during all of the lifts, particularly the one where she's sort of draped across his body, and he walks her across the stage. I also really liked a series of leaps she does near the end, where she runs/leaps across the diagonal length of the stage; she did a great job keeping her torso at the same height throughout, which made the flight look like one smooth motion. Lastly, I liked the scene where Giselle stands in front of Albrecht to protect him, extending her arms to the sides and gently draping her hands over his. This is right after Myrtha has gotten rid of Hilarion and wants to do the same to Albrecht. This was a great moment for Zakharova because of the fineness of her position, and because she assumed it so slowly and gracefully. Although she's a slight person, I felt that she had great power, and it was a powerful moment.
Because I know that in the past there have been complaints about Zakharova's 180 extensions (and I don't like them either), I'll note that the night I saw her, her extensions didn't seem overly high. I think she must be tempering them a bit.
If I were being nitpicky, I would add that there were exactly two moments where she was not quite as fluid as I would have liked. One was during her first Act II arabesque; she started moving into the position super slowly and with great control, but toward the end of the motion, it was a bit rushed. The other was during a pdd, where she's facing him and he turns her around to face the other direction; it looked a little bumpy.
As long as I'm pointing out imperfections, I'll also mention that there was a moment of imperfect stagecraft when Bolle put his hand on Giselle's tombstone and it rocked back and forth ever so slightly. I guess poor Giselle's family couldn't afford a very sturdy monument!
The evening's Myrthe, Nicoletti Manni, was fine. I could find no faults in her performance, but I may have preferred Vassallo from the night before, because I thought she had more quiet severity about her.

Bolle did more than 32 enthrechat sixes. (I think maybe 37, though I'm not certain.) Like Sutera, toward the end Bolle began punching his arms into the air -- maybe that's a more common thing to do than I had realized.

I think my main takeaway from the evening is that there's something special about getting to see two great dancers who have a long professional history together. Their chemistry was so good, and I'm sure that's part of the reason why I found the performance so moving, with a real sense of redemption at its conclusion.
During the curtain calls, Bolle and Zakharova received many shouts of "bravi" and flowers that came flying from all directions. When they turned and bowed to each other, the applause volume increased a few notches. Another great moment was when someone threw two items to the stage: a bouquet of flowers and something else that was hard to see. Bolle retrieved the bouquet and presented it to Zakharova. She in turn picked up the other item, and if I recall correctly, it was at this moment when she finally broke from her somber dead Giselle character and started smiling. She handed the item to him, and he held it to his heart. Grinning broadly, he turned to show the item -- a small teddy bear -- to the whole auditorium. The crowd loved it!!
I couldn't end this report without mentioning that during intermission, I'd started chatted with an Italian woman and her daughter who were sitting in the row behind me. We had bonded over our mutual dislike of some loud people who had crept into the front row from some further-back area, talked almost constantly through the first act, and then apparently been asked by an usher, at intermission, to go back to their own seats. Anyway, my new friend persuaded me to stick with her after the show and come to the stage door, something I've never done before. We waited about 45 minutes in a small walkway before Zakharova emerged, looking like she just wanted to head to her hotel and a hot bath. (I don't blame her, I'm sure I look that way after far less-strenuous nights!) Bolle emerged later, grinning spectacularly and seeming to adore the crowd. My new friend was off like a shot for a photo opp and autograph. She advised me to stick close to her, but it was hard with all those energetic teenage girls pushing people out of their way!! We tried to stick together but were separated in the chaos. My friend and her daughter got their autographs and then shouted advice to me ("Tell him you're from the US!!"). I'm probably the worst autograph hound of all time, but I did eventually get an autograph and a richly textured "Prego" in response to my "Grazie." And that was the last word of the night. : )
Next: Osipova and Polunin
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Like Sutera, toward the end Bolle began punching his arms into the air -- maybe that's a more common thing to do than I had realized.

This is often used as a way to illustrate how close to exhaustion Albrecht is.

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Thank you sasark for your detailed reviews. I eagerly await your review of Osipova/Polunin.

Bolle is widely known and beloved in Italy, in part, I think because he still performs there so much. A few years ago we met an Italian couple in their '60's in Florence. They knew and loved Bolle but had never even heard of Alessandra Ferri!

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This is often used as a way to illustrate how close to exhaustion Albrecht is.

thank you, Sandik. I am certainly no expert on "Giselle, so I appreciate the info!

Thank you sasark for your detailed reviews. I eagerly await your review of Osipova/Polunin.

Bolle is widely known and beloved in Italy, in part, I think because he still performs there so much. A few years ago we met an Italian couple in their '60's in Florence. They knew and loved Bolle but had never even heard of Alessandra Ferri!

Oh that's funny!

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Night Three, April 11

----------------------------

Giselle - Natalia Osipova

Albrecht - Sergei Polunin

Myrtha - Nicoletta Manni


My last night in Milan was bittersweet. I'd had such a good time in Italy (it was my first visit), and I hated for it to end. On the other hand, Natalia Osipova! I was super excited to see her, and she didn't disappoint!


My very first impression was that she had great energy and height during her entrance and the initial skipping. My next thought was that she overdid it with the shock when she first saw Albrecht. She froze -- completely froze -- in a position that looked unnatural. I thought it was too much. But that was the last overacting I noticed. During the rest of the piece, I thought she struck exactly the right tones.


When they started dancing together, things really took off. They had great chemistry, and she was exhilarating to watch. Her spins were fast, her manner playful, and she looked like she was having a fantastic time. During the hopping on pointe, she was the first of the three Giselles to vary from tradition. (She started out regularly, but when she got about halfway across the stage, she hopped around in a little circle, before continuing downstage.) Then when she did the turns in a circle round the stage (right after the hopping), she had great speed and form, though I did wonder a little about the fact that she was not perfectly vertical. She was tilted inward a bit. In other words, she was moving in one large circle, and leaning in toward the center of that circle. I wondered if that was to help with speed, or if it was a stylistic choice. In any event, when she ends the turns, holding her arms out to the audience, you could really see on her face that this is a woman who loves dancing! It's hard to imagine anyone in the theater not responding to that vitality.


Polunin was exciting to watch too. He has a very particular grace, and, with his long unruly hair (which flowed behind him during leaps), he seemed a different type of prince -- a bit more the rogue. Unfortunately, during the scenes when Giselle had the spotlight, I thought he looked a little disengaged. There are a few moments where she's dancing and he's sitting on a bench watching her, and Polunin looked a little bored. This was so different from Bolle, who was always 100% in character. Still, they were absolutely charming when they danced together. I remembered being disappointed when Hilarion came to tell Giselle the truth, because I had been enjoying their dancing so much! I didn't want it to stop. Still, that part was great too!! For Osipova, the best part of the "crisis sequence" was the initial moment of realization. She exuded such disbelief and such pain when she confronted Bathilde. I really believed her. The rest of the scene -- the madness and death -- were also good, though again, I didn't think Polunin seemed properly engaged.


Before I came to Milan I had read the reviews, on the BA! Mikhailovsky subforum, of Osipova's recent "Giselle" at Lincoln Center. Many of these reviews were not very positive about her Act II work. I believe one of the complaints was she was too athletic at the expense of being ethereal. As I mentioned earlier in this thread, I am not an expert on this ballet, so I may not have as full a frame of reference as others. However, I liked her. Her style was not as delicate and otherworldly as Zakharova, but everything she did looked good, and I totally believed in her character. If Zakharova was maybe a bit more delicate, Osipova was strong, while still being graceful and beautiful. I also think that Osipova projects a great deal of warmth. During both acts, that quality really works for this character.


I noticed a couple of other small differences between Osipova and the previous Giselles. One had to do with some turns Giselle does right after her entrance in Act II (the initiation scene), where Giselle, on a flat foot, she turns very quickly in a clockwise direction with her right leg in back attitude. Both Zakharova and Di Stefano had similar positions during this turn, with their knee angling down a little bit and their right foot cocked slightly upward toward the ceiling. Osipova's leg and foot looked more perfectly horizontal -- more parallel to the floor. I don't know which is right, but I liked Osipova's style. Another difference occurred during one of the pdds, when Giselle does a developpe to her right, with her arms in fifth position. Both Zakharova and Di Stefano leaned to their left, and they ended up with higher extensions. Osipova kept her back upright and possibly ended up with less height in her right leg, but I thought Osipova's version looked better, partly because I thought she maintained better positioning of her arms and head.


For Polunin, maybe I was influenced too much by my impressions of him being bored during Act I, but he didn't move me in Act II. I did think he was pretty amazing during the solo before the entrechat sixes. He had great height during all the jumps, seeming almost to hang in the air, and his pirouettes were perfect. He did only 25 entrechat sixes, which surprised me, though maybe this was an artistic choice. He certainly did a great job of looking both like an incredible dancer and someone who is fading.


The evening's Myrtha, Nicoletta Manni, was again solid. I also thought that the evening's peasant pdd, performed by Alessandra Vassallo and Walter Madau, was the best of the three that I saw. (I'd also enjoyed Gaia Andreano on the first evening; I just wasn't quite as taken with her partner.)


So overall, it was an incredible trip. I'm so grateful to Ballet Alert! If I hadn't had a heads-up from this forum, I never would have thought to start perusing the La Scala calender early enough to actually get tickets to these performances. I love this forum!!

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I also thank you for the report! It is such fun to read other people's impressions of a ballet, (especially when it is one I know fairly well), and I really enjoy reading what others like or dislike; what they notice, what moves them, what is important to them.

Thank you!

-d-

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Thank you very much for these reports--what you describe of Osipova in Act II makes her form sound more 'classical' than the others at least in those particular poses; I think I understood you correctly (?).

I find the overall impact of a performance, though influenced by the accumulation of technical/interpretive details that make it up, is (if it's any good) also always something more than the sum of those details, and it sounds as if that was the case with these performances as well. Wish I could have seen them--but your reporting makes them very vivid.

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what you describe of Osipova in Act II makes her form sound more 'classical' than the others at least in those particular poses; I think I understood you correctly (?).

Yes, you understood correctly -- I felt she looked more classical in those moments. I'm never sure how important that is, or how common it is for dancers to push the boundaries in certain roles (or at certain moments in certain roles). But I preferred Osipova's style in both those instances that I mentioned.

Thanks everyone for the comments!

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