The Bolshoi Ballet
The John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
May 20, 2014
by Alexandra Tomalonis
copyright © 2014 by Alexandra Tomalonis
One of the reasons that “Giselle,” first danced in Paris at the height of the Romantic Ballet Boom, has lasted for more than 150 years is because it is so many ballets. It can be a potboiler about a young girl’s betrayal by a philandering nobleman; a danced poem of passion and a love that transcends death; a study of innocence, of madness, of a selfish young man brought to maturity by tragedy; and many more. Once packed with mime scenes and danced with a Romantic softness and curling lines, it’s now often dominated by razor-sharp dancing, lines as stretched as possible, and big technical effects. It always works. Opening night’s performance of the Bolshoi Ballet’s production of the evergreen classic was, first and foremost, beautifully danced by David Hallberg and Svetlana Zakharova, provoking an audience reaction that was at times hushed, expectant silence, and at times rapturous applause, both well deserved. Yet the performance also bounced and slid between drama and dancing, and even among styles.
This was part of a push-pull on several fronts that resulted in a performance that never quite jelled. One moment the dancing of soloists or stars made one forget everything else; the next, the dancing switched to slow motion or was too careful, and a corps once famous for its big, broad, heartfelt dancing seemed caught between the two worlds. The great performances in Grigorovich’s production that I remember from the 1980s weren’t specifically dramatic at all, but danced from the heart; the second act, especially,seemed a concerto of thwarted love. There were lovely small details Tuesday night (I don’t remember the village girls opening the cottage door, gently and quietly, when Giselle was in her mother’s arms at the end of the act, as though inviting her to go inside and calm down, for example) but (again, another “but”) why does a production that now emphasizes mime so much, and dancers who do it so beautifully, not restore the mother’s scene that explains the danger of the Wilis to the village, and to her daughter? This idea seems to have been excised, not only literally here, but also dramatically in Zakharova’s mad scene. So much of Zakharova’s dancing showed a fine ballerina at the top of her game, but she, too, especially in the first act, was inconsistent, never a believable peasant girl, and about halfway through the act, dancing as though she were already a ghost.
The two most consistent performances were Hallberg’s Albrecht and Vitaly Biktimirov’s Hans (Hilarion in many productions), the village gamekeeper who loves Giselle and exposes Albrecht’s duplicity. This is a role that has been caught between the 19th century mime villain and the late 20th century boy-next-door-who-can-really-dance for some years now. Biktimirov’s portrayal may be the New Hans. Neither villain nor nice boy, he was a man who cares about Giselle, is aware of his position (he’s a great catch, and knows it, somehow without a shred of arrogance). In the second act, Biktimirov managed to show that he’s an excellent dancer without overdancing, without turning Hans’s futile battle with the Wilis into a showpiece. Hallberg’s Albrecht was also very consistent. He was absolutely “there” in every scene, as the Danes would say; you knew what he was thinking, you knew what he felt, and his dancing was in the same key. Even his soaring jeté exit in the second act seemed an expression of his desperate love for Giselle, not a trick.
The corps was “there” too, reacting to every scene in individual, very believable ways in the first act. Yet its dancing lacked the freedom one associates with this company; perhaps this is an accommodation to the current classroom-dancing international style, perhaps just an opening night anomaly. In the second act, the corps danced beautifully, but these Wilis weren’t frightening. Maria Allash, as Myrtha, did have strength and was up for a battle, but her relatively shorter lines seemed out of place.The first act’s pas de deux (Daria Khokhlova and Igor Tsvirko) was muted and not quite a good fit, as well. Tsvirko has a very muscular body and a joyous smile. His dancing seemed reigned in, and it would have been interesting to see him cut loose instead of having to worry about landing clean positions.
And yet... the second act pas de deux, danced with utter sincerity by both Zakharova and Hallberg, and in which Zakharova’s lines were as pure as Giselle’s soul must be, was certainly a metaphor for love. There’s always something interesting to see when great dancers dance “Giselle.”
copyright © 2014 by Alexandra Tomalonis