Initially, it was a thrill to score such a fantastic seat at The Kennedy Center for the Mariinsky’s final performance of Giselle. Row R in the Orchestra is nearly perfect – the first row after the aisle that runs horizontally across the first third of the theater. But a few minutes into Act I, Haglund was wishing he was several rows back or even in the first balcony. The big formations on the stage were all clearly visible from Row R. The music was bold and the sections of the orchestra sounded balanced from the seats in Row R. But the house’s acoustical design enhanced the percussive plonks of Diana Vishneva’s very hard blocks in her shoes. Haglund has attended Vishneva’s performances many times at the Met Opera House and the NY City Center, but never heard block clomping like he heard yesterday. For the most part, the corps’ and soloist women’s shoes were not particularly noisy, although Myrtha landed with heavy thuds during her variations – but her shoes weren’t the source of her noise. Of all the roles, one would think Giselle could be danced in a pair or two of soft Freeds instead of (what looked like) hard Grishkos. It really ruined some of the magic of the performance.
The overall performance yesterday was terrific but not among Vishneva’s most dramatic. Haglund has always wondered if Vishneva dances differently with the Mariinsky than she does with ABT but he had never seen Diana in performance with her home company until yesterday. She may dance differently, but it may have to do with the theatrical vibes she gets from her partner. Her Act I yesterday in which her Albrecht was Andrian Fadeyev, a reserved but not inhibited actor, was considerably pulled-back or toned down from the joyous romps that she seemed to enjoy in her spectacular ABT performances with Angel Corella. The energy between them in 2009 was not just electric but overwhelming in emotion. Haglund expects a similar experience this spring when Vishneva dances Giselle opposite Marcelo Gomes – twice – but a redux with Corella would truly be something to look forward to. Too bad that McKenzie is trying to erase Corella from our memories by locking him out of the Met season.
In Act I, Giselle’s pique first arabesque in profile which rolled down into penche seemed a bit too gingerly and her hops on pointe on the diagonal were studied with no port de bras toward Albrecht. Haglund began to wonder if Vishneva was injured again which might account for her reliance on the clunky shoes. A quick look at her schedule on her website revealed an astonishing 12 performances during the first six weeks of 2011 including a bunch of performances of her new project with La La La Human Steps. The last time Vishneva took on a major new project – Beauty in Motion in 2008 – she ended up injuring herself so badly that she had to withdraw from all of her ABT performances.
Aside from the distraction of her clomping blocks, Vishneva skillfully carved out Giselle’s character from her first step out of her cottage to her final exit back to the grave. She has developed so many unique details in the character over the years. When she took the necklace which Bathilde had just placed around her neck, in her hands and looked at it, you could already see some of the detachment from reality in her face. Her excitement over Albrecht’s attention was youthful and charming and packed with feelings of anticipation along with not knowing what she should do next. When early in Act I she was daydreaming of Albrecht and inadvertently backed into him, her arms were raised as she turned around so that she very nearly put them around his neck in an embrace. Her mad scene was miraculous if anything. Never has Haglund seen a Giselle so clearly die in Albrecht’s arms. She ran to him and when his hands went around her waist, she briefly rose into the air with her feet lifted to the back like some ghostly spirit before dropping unconscious and limp in Albrecht’s arms.
The Peasant PdD danced by Maria Shirinkina and Vladimir Shklyarov ran into trouble in a few spots, but clearly Shirinkina is part of the Mariinsky’s beautiful future. Shklyarov was okay, but didn’t dispatch his variations with the technical wizardry and peasant energy that one hoped for. Shirinkina’s shoes were very quiet, but whether they were Gaynor Mindens or not, they were ugly in color, in shape, and in size. There was simply too much shoe to the shoes. Too much box, too much fabric along the side and at the back, and too much orange color. We’re building a whole generation of dancers who do not seem to understand that the appearance of the the pointe shoe should elongate and taper the line of the leg. Some dancers, like Gillian Murphy, seem to want to flaunt the orange satin so that it is obvious that they have these mammoth boxy tools of their trade strapped to their feet. It’s gross. Haglund totally expects to see the day when pointe shoes are so "advanced" that they are equipped with GPS so that ballerinas won’t even have to remember the steps – the shoes will remember them for the dancer. No training required; just strap on the magic shoes which will quietly lift you and take you where you should go.
Act II’s strongest performance came from Vishneva who, still with noisy blocks, managed the ethereal maneuvers beautifully. To this day, Haglund remembers her performance with Corella when the top layer of tulle from her skirt flew up against her face while she was downstage doing the fast entrechat quatre passe variation making her more ghostly than you can ever imagine. Yesterday, Giselle’s forgiveness of Albrecht summoned the sniffles from the audience. The end came with Albrecht backing upstage as he let the lilies drop to the ground and then he raced to Giselle’s grave where he collapsed finally realizing his loss. Haglund prefers ABT’s quieter reed-like ending to the blaring brass used by the Mariinsky. The quiet ending has more emotional impact whereas the blaring brass has more theatrical impact.
The wilis were quite spectacular. There is something about their skirts – either they are longer or have fewer or more layers – but they are the most beautiful wili costumes Haglund has ever seen. The Act I costumes for the corps ladies, on the other hand, look like they were made out of K-Mart kitchen curtains.
Myrtha was listed as Alexandra Losifidi but it didn’t exactly look like her. Myrtha was heavy-footed and menacing looking without much in the way of wili quality and was wearing a pair of eyelashes the size of which Haglund has only seen before on the Trocks.
One last comment about bad trends. Here are two pictures of the same moment in Giselle interpreted by two Mariinsky dancers. (The image of one is flipped.) Exhibit A is Vishneva from the poster billboard in the front of the Kennedy Center. Exhibit F is Somova from the Playbill cover.
Note in Exhibit A how the head is bowed and the leg is extended to the side but leaves sufficient space between the leg and body so the shape of the torso is still clear (and beautiful) and the line of the bottom of the skirt is beautifully curved and looks like an arc.
Look at this mess in Exhibit F. Somova has turned this into her own version of ecarte with the head turned away instead of bowed so that she can crank the leg up. Where’s the arc of the bottom of the skirt? Where’s the shape of the torso? Where’s the bowed head? This sort of thing belongs in the Barnum & Bailey center ring, not in Act II of Giselle. Sadly, Somova has decided that getting her leg up is more important than conveying the story of Giselle.
Exhibit AAA gold - See it all done perfectly at 1:50 here.
Haglund is glad that he made the trip to DC to see Vishneva in Giselle and wishes he could have seen Tereshkina and Lopatkina as well. The Mariinsky production looked a lot grander on the Met stage more than a decade ago when on a Saturday evening in a packed house Haglund saw the miraculous performance from a last minute substitute from the corps by the name of Natalia Sologub.
The Pump Bump Award is bestowed upon Diana Vishneva who on Sunday afternoon really seemed to be carrying the whole Mariinsky on her delicate, slim shoulders.