San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA
January 27, 2014
by Rita Felciano
Copyright © Rita Felciano, 2014
Walking out after any "Giselle" performance, my first reaction is that I want to see it again, and again, and again. Such is the grip that this ever so romantic ballet holds on me. When I was younger, I used to be angry with Albrecht, hoping he would have a miserable life. Now I am choking up when SFB's Giselle slithers back into the grave. It is such a hoky stage trick, and yet I hold my breath. Audiences don't seem to be able to get enough either of this story of innocence betrayed. This year tickets were almost impossible to get even though Helgi Tomasson's 1999 version opened the season in 2008 and 2011. Of particular interest this year will be the first local appearance -- which unfortunately I'll have to miss -- of new Principal Mathilde Froustey's (Paris Opera Ballet) Giselle and new Soloist Simone Messmer's (ABT) Myrtha.
Tomasson's choreography for the Wilis is richly detailed. The dancers floated through it with a common purpose but also spread across the stage as if propelled by an evil wind. When they chugged through those arabesques, they looked and sounded like an army on the march.
Yuan Yuan Tan and David Karapetyan danced the leads. Tan, with her finely shaped lines and her ability to hold balances foever, will never look like what we think of as a peasant girl. Yet by now she has made the role her own. I wish that in the first act her smile didn't look so glued on but she built her character from timidity and curiosity to eagerness and even flirtation to eventually giving herself almost voluptuously to her love. Getting up from her mother's embrace, she was deathly pale, for a moment frozen in catatonic stupor -- already a ghost. Then in an explosion of frenzy and desperate remembering, she threw herself at Hilarion (a very capable and even sympathetic Rubén Martin Cintas), then at Berthe (Anita Paciotti) and finally with her last breath at Albrecht out of whose arms she slid to the ground.
In the second act, Tan's elevation, the splendid ballon in those soubresauts, the exactitude of her traveling steps were breath-taking but I particularly noticed the expressiveness of Tan's long arms. They floated like wings and scooped from the earth -- but always with that touch of forward momentum. There was such fierceness when she spread them protectively in front of Albrecht. No wonder that for a moment, she broke through Myrtha's armor.
Physically, Karapetyan is a little short to partner Tan but he easily dominated' her in the first act through the sheer force of his presence. In the beginning, he treated her kindly as an aristocrat's plaything, but he increasingly fell under her spell during their parallel and mirroring engagements. No matter how high his jumps, how long his leaps, his finishes gleamed. As a partner in the second act, he couldn't have been more secure, lifting her, traveling her as if she was weightless. When towards the end, he shot like a rocket through that sequence of entrechats, it was difficult to believe that he was at the end of his strength. But then it's ballet, not a reality show. Karapetyan just may have become SFB's finest male dancer.
Sofiane Sylph repeated her superb Myrtha. The way she surveyed her territory, at first with lightly skimming bourrées, and then in more earth-oriented pencheés; scooping up and ruling her followers, she was every inch a mythic figure. If there was one single moment where I held my breath, was her emerging from upstage as the Wilis opened space for her. Sylph, on point in fifth position raised her arms en couronne. And then she just stood there, a piece of carved marble. As her attendants, Soloists De Sola in the first, Dores André in the second impressed with the musicality and assurance they brought to their distinct variations. Both dancers surely will graduate to bigger roles.
Photo Credit: Yuan Yuan Tan and David Karpetyan
Photo: Erik Tomasson