A Rare Flower

American Ballet Theater
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, NY
June 14, 2006

by Lisa Rinehart
copyright ©2006, Lisa Rinehart

American Ballet Theater's "Giselle" is like that homely old vase in the back of the cupboard: serviceable and stolid on its own, but, filled with an artful clutch of wildflowers, capable of surprising grace. The transformative bouquet in this instance is the divine Diana Vishneva. Her physical delicacy and rock solid technique satisfy obvious prerequisites for this waif-of-steel role, but it's her mastery of old-world stylization infused with a heartbreaking realism that will anoint her as one of the greats. She is, as the expression goes, the real thing.

I wish I could muster the same enthusiasm for her Albrecht, Vladimir Malakhov, who's adherence to the School of the Ever Exquisitely Pointed Toe is unrivaled. While Malahkov goes through all the right motions, his Albrecht is sadly lacking in emotional depth. Albrecht is a complex role for the male dancer — a thankless one in fact, as he's basically a cad who inadvertently kills Giselle by way of his deception. If he's to gain any sympathy from the audience he must bowl us over with the sincerity of his unexpected love for Giselle. This is foreign ground for Malahkov. His Albrecht is a self absorbed pretty boy who seems almost relieved when his aristocratic fiancee, Bathilde, shows up and inadvertently puts an end to the ruse. He goes to her side without a hint of hesitation as Giselle looks on in horror. This is a man crazy in love with a girl he knows he can't have? Hmm. Nonetheless, Malahkov and Vishneva make an attractive pair and appear to enjoy working together and that's worth much in the world of balletic partnerships.

As for the production itself, I can tell you with authority that, aside from a facelift involving new costumes and some set refurbishment in 1987, this "Giselle" has remained essentially unchanged for almost thirty years. This isn't such a terrible thing, but one wonders if it would be sacrilegious to inject more interest into the plinkety plink peasant dances that are an endless repetition of steps from Ballet 101. Of course, that might steal the thunder from the Peasant Pas de Deux which has the distinction of being the penultimate collection of Advanced Ballet's most sadistic steps. Stella Abrera handled the difficulties with aplomb while Gennadi Saveliev looked like he was having less than a fun time. In fact, aside from Giselle and Albrecht's sweet love making and Giselle's final mad scene, Act I is a rather dreary affair with much emphasis on grapes, garlands and gowns. But this is why Vishneva's innocent and childlike interpretation of Giselle is so affecting. She's endearing enough for us to find it charming as she's trundled about the stage in a rickety wagon with a couple of wine swilling kids, and lovely enough for us to find her delightful while decked out in a goofy harvest headdress and grape-laden scepter. She's got us in her pocket by the time the mad scene roles around and doesn't disappoint.

Act II, however, is what everyone is waiting for. The stage is dim, the music ominous, and a host of unholy things lurk as Hilarion (Sascha Radetsky) marks Giselle's grave. Michele Wiles as Myrta is strong and capable, but lacks the imperiousness that can elevate the role above a show of technique. Conversely, Radetsky comes into his own as the technique ante is upped. Saddled with a lot of clumsy mime in Act I, he finally gets something to dance in Act II and explodes into a passionate frenzy of energetic cabrioles as he's run ragged by the Wilis. For their part, the Wilis are pleasingly uniform and disciplined in their dirty work. All this is prologue to Giselle's famous entrance solo and subsequent pas de deux with Albrecht. Vishneva whirls through the first like a shred of tulle blown by a fan and the pas de deux is a wonder of ethereal control. The couple chooses an exceedingly slow tempo that lets every moment shimmer like phosphorous on a night sea and Malahkov's superb partnering allows Vishneva to float unbidden into the air and hang indefinitely with the weight of a cobweb. Even when standing still, Vishneva has a way of opening her arms and lifting her breast as though exposing herself to all the world and its misery — she is the sacrificial lamb that will save Albrecht from his lesser self. This is the stuff of Romantic ballet and it doesn't come much better. The clunky vase still holds water, and when blessed with the right flower at the peak of its bloom, it's even beautiful.

Volume 4, No. 24
June 19, 2006

copyright ©2006 Lisa Rinehart



©2006 DanceView