American Ballet Theater
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, New York
June 2, 2011
Copyright 2011 by Michael Popkin
Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes' partnership is becoming a great one and their "Giselle" - the last of ABT's week long run - elevated to the level of poetry in Act Two, with Vishneva laying out her nearly mystical extensions and the orchestra taking the tempi at the slowest of paces in the pas de deux. Gomes was the strongest of partners and a powerful Albrecht in his own right. Conductor Charles Barker's ability to relate to what is happening on stage and vary not only the orchestra's tempi, but also its dynamics and sonority in response made him an equal participant in the pas to an unusual degree. I've rarely if ever seen better ballet conducting and no other conductor in New York does this nearly as well at the moment.
Vishneva's dramatic interpretation of Giselle is not naturalistic but instead iconic. Although she acts in broad brush and gives the necessary details - the moment in Act One when she fainted against Gomes, her heart exhausted by the dance, read very clearly - she doesn't attempt to be realistically girlish in the role but instead emphasizes its emotional core and the ballet's theme: her character's progression from innocence, trust and love, to betrayal, despair, madness, and finally the redemptive and transcendent power of femininity. It's a fine reading that gives emotional impact to the ballet and also probably the only one that would work for her. She couldn't act like an eighteen year old if she tried; she's mature, womanly and dark; exotic and erotic. No ingenue, instead she's a powerfully mature feminine dancer: lithe, elongated, strong in the core of her body, with stretched lyrical lines and a unique blend of both emotional vulnerability and strength. These are the qualities of a great Giselle - in Act One the feminine victim, in Act Two the virgin redeemer.
At about thirty-five years old she is also at this point in her career a genius at exploiting her strengths on stage - her light, airy jump but above all the creamy, sinuous extensions and arabesques that made her Act Two effective. The concluding pas de deux, just before dawn, was deeply moving as she repeatedly leaned forward in arabesque, extending her poetic back, arms and hands outward with each throb of the musical phrase like a leaf stirring in the softest of winds, as Gomes surely and unobtrusively adjusted her balance in response to the music. It's a big sentimental moment that can handle equally sentimental dance effects and rarely do dancers nail it as perfectly as this.
Gomes, whose partnering made this all possible, is not naturally a nobleman by type. He's dark and stocky despite his physique now being stretched, but is every inch a leading man and has become convincing in princely roles where he appears as a Renaissance Italian, perhaps a Venetian or Spaniard (a Don Carlo or Hernani) rather than a northerner. His Albrecht was clueless: an impulsive, proud, sincere but unreflective man who in Act Two became deeply sorrowful and transformed by Giselle's redemptive love. His thematic reading thus matched Vishneva's as did his masculine strength, and Bolshoi-like elevation on stage. His Albrecht expanded to heroism at the ballet's conclusion but it was a heroism achieved only by moral awakening. As a partner, he has the knack of getting close to, and under his ballerina's center of gravity, of becoming one with her while supporting her, that recalls Jock Soto's partnering technique although he is utterly unlike Soto in practically every other respect.
Gennadi Saveliev was superb as Hilarion. ABT is lucky to have a character dancer of his quality. He is unique in New York. The rest of the ensemble was as good as it needed to be despite some heavy footed dancing at times in the corps de ballet and by Veronika Part as Myrtha.
Photo of Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes in "Giselle" by Gene Schiavone courtesy of American Ballet Theater