The pairing of Vladimir Malakhov with Diana Vishneva in “Giselle” was a much anticipated event at ABT, but appendicitis forced Malakhov to forego his appearance. Instead, Vishneva was paired with Angel Corella.
Vishneva’s Act I was filled with Giselle-isms. The shy glance with averted eyes, the head held forward and down; it was all there. She’s got her Giselle-isms down so that even if they are not sincere, they are still convincing. It’s the Big Star version: Eau de Giselle. Still, she’s at a level where her mannered interpretation is better than most sincere ones, and even among the Giselle-isms she had thoughtful and deeply felt moments. Before joining Albrecht to dance with the villagers in a pinwheel she sat on a bench to compose herself quietly and there was a hint of what she faced when she ignored her mother’s warnings and danced. But most Giselles today have problems with the innocent village girl of Act I and only start to find the role at the mad scene.
Vishneva’s mad scene hit all the bases though it seemed to be created from the outside in. She didn’t go mad; she created a picture of madness for us, one that was strange and beautiful in its shapes. Her best moment came at the spot where (in most productions) on two little upward trills of notes, Giselle “sees” the Wilis. Not only did she let you know that she saw them, but that they are beckoning to her. It’s a small effect, but very chilling. It takes her death from heart failure or stabbing to something supernatural. She’s been called; she knows she’s going to die.
It’s interesting to place Corella’s Albrecht on a timeline. A young dancer can play Albrecht innocently, but as he ages that stretches credulity. It’s harder to believe that an older Albrecht is unaware of the consequences of his actions; he has to be duplicitous. Corella is at the point where he’s moving from one interpretation to the other.
Corella came onstage pulled up and almost prissy in the way he walked and posed, or in how he modeled his clothing for Wilfrid to ask if the disguise was suitable. His Albrecht was a spoiled fop. Later on, when Giselle touched the hem of Bathilde’s dress, Bathilde modeled the dress for Giselle in much the same way. When Albrecht met Bathilde later, his posture with her was familiar and comfortable. They’re from the same world and more of the same mind than he and Giselle. In contrast, Albrecht and Giselle’s communion was physical. One sensed it the moment Corella and Vishneva jump together.
The house of cards Albrecht has built collapses when Hilarion uses Albrecht’s horn to summon the hunting party. Some Albrechts start scheming immediately for a plausible excuse, while others have a confrontation with Hilarion. Corella’s sword slowly dropped from his hand when he heard the call returned in the distance. His erect posture went slack. He knew he was trapped. He played his betrayal of Giselle as quietly as he could, trying to angle Bathilde and himself away from Giselle, to no avail. By Giselle’s death he was hysterical and had lost all composure. He tried blaming Hilarion but even that got thrown back at him.
Corella’s Act II solos were brilliant and he partnered Vishneva lovingly. But some of the choices he made with his character were problematic. If one is to play Albrecht as a cad, there has to be a transformation. Albrecht has to change through Giselle’s death and her forgiveness; she redeems him. Corella set himself up exactly in Act I for this but followed through inconsistently. When he walked to Giselle’s grave once again he was modeling and posing. He dismissed Wilfrid with an imperious wave. He may have been trying to build Albrecht up as a hero (could that dismissal have been courageous to him rather than imperious?) or trying to give himself the weight he doesn’t naturally have but it came off as prissy. He needs to approach her grave not just with sadness, but contrition. Corella never really let go until the very end after Giselle exits for the last time and he gently kissed his fingers and touched her cross.
Vishneva’s second act was extremely fine and predictably better than her first. Vishneva has long arms that almost look American in their untamedness. It’s one of the reasons she looks so natural in “Rubies”. Her element is the air. Her jump became a metaphor for the realm in which she is trapped, struggling to break free of earth. She spun wildly on her first entry as if trying to shake off her corporeal self and then threw herself into her leaps to cross the stage and exit. The audience called her back for two bows that were taken in character: in obedience towards Myrtha and exactly the same both times.
Veronika Part’s understanding of the role of Myrtha was elemental, completely in tune with all the forces underlying the ballet. Her deep emotions reminded one that Myrtha also died for love. Her first entry navigated the perimeter of the stage as she marked her dominion. Part wobbled in her opening promenades— the wrong time to have uncertain balance. She lost that uncertainty and only got better as she went on, soaring across the stage in her final variation. Part will sacrifice form for emotion in a heartbeat, but if her body can become strong enough to do what her brain already understands she will be unstoppable. Her lieutenants were Stella Abrera and Carmen Corella.
Sascha Radetsky did well as Hilarion; he was sympathetic, yet unsuited to and too coarse for Giselle, as he should be. Ilona McHugh was a warm and loving Birthe. Jennifer Alexander played Bathilde effectively. In this production Bathilde is spoiled and self-centered; her reaction to Giselle’s collapse was not concern, it was to shoot Albrecht a look that could kill.
In a traditional "Giselle," one of the few places where a stager can fuss is the Peasant Pas de Deux, which is not from the original production. Other versions add couples; ABT’s version is still a pas de deux but there are many small changes and a different female variation to unfamiliar music. These changes aren’t really better or worse, just unfamiliar. Anna Liceica and Gennadi Saveliev did the honors; Saveliev and the conductor (Charles Barker) weren’t in synchrony to land jumps and orchestral flourishes at the same moment.
Of ABT’s versions of the full-length classics, “Giselle” is the best because of its dramatic coherence. The production is simply credited as “after Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa.” No stager is listed. Odd that no one will take any credit for it in the program.