atque Vale — Hail and Farewell
(with Roses for the Future)
Tribute to Amanda McKerrow
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, NY
July 14, 2005
©2005 by George Jackson
the curtains open on "Giselle", it is dawn. Daylight has broken
but a few early morning shadows still linger. A peasant lad stretches
and yawns as he strolls into an empty clearing at a village's edge. The
view gives onto vineyards and a hilltop castle not far away. Full sunshine
flourishes then, and the clearing quickly becomes peopled; key protagonists
appear—Giselle's two suitors and her mother —but we must wait
a bit to meet her. The ballet will end the next morning, a few minutes
earlier than it began, just as night is leaving and we see the sun's first
rays reflected in the eyes of the single figure left on stage, Albrecht,
the favored suitor. He has been devastated and reborn as only a romantic
hero can be.
There is a naturalness to ABT's production of "Giselle" that
suits this classic's ingredients of realism and fantasy. Life's cycles
run their course so that we come to accept those opposites, love and death,
being as inevitable as day and night. Amanda McKerrow, giving her ABT
farewell at this performance, took the title role. She was to all appearances
so natural, so simple, so perfectly perfect as the embodiment of a girl
who loves to dance, who is in love and who plies her needle dutifully.
Giselle had heard a knock on her cottage door and came skipping out with
curiosity and high expectations. She seemed still something of a child,
only uncommonly fine. The ballerina was as hidden as her full leg action
was under her skirt (only the play of the lower portions—pointes,
insteps, ankles and bounding calves—showed.) One could look at this
characterization and be unaware of the art of it, or of the thought behind
the action. For this Giselle, behavior was spontaneous. Whether she undertook
something substantive such as rejecting the suitor whose very tread is
antidance, or whether she added details such as trying to hide the tell
tale signs of her fainting spell, glancing at her own homespun frock after
admiring the imperious Bathilde's silken gown, taking off the heavy necklace
Bathilde has bestowed on her and handing it to her mother before dancing
her big solo—McKerrow preferred the light touch and this made her
pre-tragedy Giselle sparkle.
Remarkable was how McKerrow's Giselle grew up to be capable of a love
beyond the grave. It was through pain. Albrecht's duplicity in being betrothed
to both Bathilde and Giselle, was a knife stab for Giselle. She suffered
physically from learning of his deception. McKerrow used Giselle's ensuing
madness to mature. She overcame confusion, recognized Albrecht, saw that
he too was in anguish and knew he loved her nevertheless. She died a grown
woman, reaching for a new certainty.
In Part 2, McKerrow molded what the poet Heinrich Heine in his review
of the first, the 1841"Giselle" called "the dance urge"
into an act of love. After her first wild spins when summoned from the
grave, the texture of McKerrow's movement was that of a caress. Whether
dancing with Albrecht or for him, she shaped embraces meant to sustain
him. Perhaps she wasn't quite as bold in this portion of the ballet as
she had been in Washington earlier in the year, but her body's continuous
flow was singular and the movement's richness couldn't have been more
The cast with which ABT surrounded McKerrow was mostly top notch. Ethan
Stiefel's Albrecht was so simpatico one had to forgive him as Giselle
did, and the brilliance of his brise diagonals in Act 2 showed Stiefel
recovered from the injury that had kept him offstage for a time. Conducting,
David LaMarche made Adolphe Adam's music into McKerrow's other partner.
Herman Cornejo was the human hurricane that passed through the male portion
of the Peasant pas de deux and Jennifer Alexander acted Bathilde as the
role ought to be done - at star caliber. Gillian Murphy, leading the spirit
maidens who seek vengeance for betrayal in love, hasn't an imposing stance.
Yet she danced sharp as a spike and glared straight anger. Karin Ellis-Wentz
was Giselle's good mother and Sascha Radetsky the honest, heavy footed
suitor. The corps de ballet was OK, with new principal Michele Wiles much
more than all right as one of the solo spirits.
Thursday's performance wasn't over after Act 2 of "Giselle".
The company and McKerrow's fans staged a touching goodbye to her. McKerrow
had joined ABT in 1982, twenty-three years ago, not long after having
won gold and international attention at the 1980 ballet competition in
Moscow. She had been trained mostly at Mary Day's School of the Washington
Ballet and began dancing professionally there. One of her first leading
roles was the sylphide princess in George Balanchine's "Scotch Symphony".
Already audiences noted "that pale, astonishing child". Day
cast McKerrow in an one-act French "Sylvia", in Choo San Goh
ballets, "Les Sylphides" and other repertory. She continued
to appear with Washington Ballet even after joining ABT, and at Thursday's
intermission one couldn't be sure whether one was in New York or Washington.
(Ms. Day watched the performance from the box of ABT Artistic Director,
Kevin McKenzie—another of her protégés.) On stage,
colleague upon colleague of McKerrow's, past and present, came to give
her flowers. There were curtsies and kisses. Her husband, John Gardner,
gave McKerrow a kiss to end all kisses and the fans pelted the stage with
pink roses. The audience had risen long before, but wouldn't stop applauding.
McKerrow was overcome. Brave trouper, she mounted a smile through her
tears when Gardner took her clenched right hand and raised it high—a
fighter's fist triumphant for the future. McKerrow and Gardner will be
part of Ethan Stiefel's new team at Ballet Pacifica in California, where
her title will be ballet mistress. Perhaps, though, she'll also stage
some Tudor, as she did for Washington Ballet, and continue dancing for
a while. She's the subtlest ballerina we've seen since Margot Fonteyn.
Amanda McKerrow as Giselle. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.
July 18, 2005
Alan M. Kriegsman
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
Kathrine Sorley Walker