San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA
January 29, 2011
by Rita Felciano
copyright © Rita Felciano, 2011
One of the great joys of returning to the classics derives from the discovery of details and perspectives you may have forgotten or never noticed in the first place. The experience proves particularly acute in dance which provides the pleasure of surprise -- well prepared for to be sure -- because instability is inherent in the medium and, therefore, provides breathing space for artists to fill as they see fit. But fairly or not, familiarity with a work also imposes a baseline of expectations against which artists are inevitably measured. The pleasure (and frustration) of San Francisco Ballet's latest "Giselle" -- the production dates from 1999, the first complete version the company ever performed -- arose more from individual performances than from the thrust of conviction that a theatrically unified approach imposes on material.
Yachmennikov's stiff demeanor had the unexpected effect of an almost comic encounter between Albrecht and Pascal Molat's hotheaded, highly dramatic Hilarion who practically threw his mime passages at us. Molat, who for many years was primarily appreciated for his buoyancy and charm, is developing his dramatic talents with excellent results. In his confrontation with Albrecht, he practically jumped him but then Albrecht -- his best moment all evening -- stepped between Hilarion's legs and had the gamekeeper recoil in fear. However, when Albrecht flopped over the dead Giselle, your eye went to Molat who, crumpled to the floor, was sobbing his heart out.
In the first act Tan's Giselle showed emotional frailty, at times almost nervousness, even during her most joyous moments. It made her "break-down" all the more plausible. It's not something that I remember from Tan's previous interpretations. Interestingly, this tension connected rather nicely to her ghostly self. Tan is a superb and musical performer with balances that could have gone for ever and feathery footwork as fast and as clean as you ever want to see. Hops on point? Of course--elegant, playful and excellently timed and placed. In the second act, she looked translucent but danced with an athlete's stamina. In a bird lift, she was about to take to the air. Still, Tan is not what one would call a natural Giselle. Hers seems to be the result of a tremendous learning curve.
Tomasson's turning the Peasant Pas de Deux into a Pas de Cinq offered the opportunity of relishing Gennadi Nedvigin -- SFB's most underused classicist -- in perfectly delivered beats and jumps with on the dot finishes endings, something that his colleague Daniel Deivison has yet to learn. A nicely developing Dores Andre was paired with Clara Blanco; Frances Chung delivered the solo woman's variation with customary elan.
Soloist Elana Altman substituted for the scheduled Sofiane Sylvane. A little shorter than some Myrthas, she brought an impressive cogency to role, dominating less with height than the absolute command of her Queen of the Wilis. The timing of her slow turns and descents into penchées beautifully led into the scooping from the earth gestures with which she called up her minions. Implacable as this Myrtha was, Altman also suggested a sense of fated isolation. The Wilis danced as if with one breath. The single purpose which they brought to those jugging hops and evenly stretched arabesques, circle and line formations reminded one that a company is only as good as its corps. Their sense of awakening in the walk-stop-walk entrance is still one of "Giselle's" most inspired moments.
Some aspects of Mikael Melbye's production remain problematic. Berthe's house is excessively grand, it looks like an inn which, perhaps however, makes it more appropriate as resting place for the ducal party than a modest hovel might have been. The second act's forest of barren trees looked threatening but then opened up like a puppet theater, revealing considerable depth. Somehow that geometric approach prepared nicely for the patterning of the Wilis' choreography. The costuming for the artistocrats seemed inspired by formal portraits of royalty when in fact these nobles were on a hunting party and quite unlikely to have worn that much velvet and silk. Val Caniparoli's was a hugely-gesturing Duke of Courland; Pascale Leroy's Bathilde, however, a wonderfully snooty and coldly indifferent Bathilde.