Thank you to the Paris Opera Ballet for six fantastic performances of Giselle that cleansed our balletic spirit and re-calibrated our balletic priorities.
Thursday night, we in New York were privileged to watch Clairemarie Osta's final performance with the Paris Opera Ballet which concluded her 24 year career with the company. She danced the title role of Giselle while her husband, Nicolas Le Riche, was Albrecht. It was a performance of tenderness, purity of form, poetry, and graciousness – a beautiful and honest portrayal from start to finish. Ms. Osta, who is required to retire at age 42 as are all the Paris Opera dancers, clearly is leaving the stage while she still maintains world class technique and artistry. Last night in Act I as Giselle performed her solos with pristine, unexaggerated beauty, Le Riche's face was filled with joy and admiration as he watched her perform them for the last time. Le Riche gave 150% last night. He launched some mighty big cabrioles in Act II, but it was his pleading before Myrtha and his realization of the love he had lost that were heartbreaking. His big turning jumps with the leg in passe followed by a desperate, pleading lunge toward Myrtha were so much more affective in conveying the story than a bunch of entrechats six - but not really as dramatic as the flying brises down the diagonal that some of our own great Albrechts in New York employ.
The Wilis were again astonishing in their beauty. However, they got off to an uncertain start when a line of the Wilis had their veils pulled off several counts too early. One of the things that Haglund loves about this staging is how during the iconic Wili scene when they step into arabesque, step back into tendu, and then circle around themselves, they do not jump the last move as is commonly seen in other stagings. Instead they simply step around silently and then slowly peel the front foot off of the floor. Anyone with a foot fetish was living his dream to see all of the Wilis peel their identically beautiful feet off the floor with such perfection. Then after they dispatched poor Hilarion, they exited with the traditional jete combination in small groups. Where this became extraordinary was in the manner that the Wilis walked up to prepare to exit on their high 3/4 releves - true 3/4 releves. It is so wonderful to see this kind of care taken with such simple steps. To see ALL of the Wilis perform this identically just added to their "spook factor" and made them look like they were under Myrtha's spell.
One of the greatest delights of the last two performances was the soloist Yann Saiz as Hilarion. He's a terrific actor with a formidable stage presence. His Hilarion was convinced up to the bitter end that he could win Giselle back. Haglund was rooting for him the whole time, but unfortunately it ended the way it always ends - poor Hilarion got thrown into the drink by the Wilis. Saiz already has the Etoile factor. The audience eye tends to gravitate toward him whenever he's on stage. While there never is a lot of flashy technique required of Hilarion, Saiz showed brilliance, clarity, and drama in his saute fouettes and jetes among the Wilis. It's going to be hard to wait to see him again, just as it's going to be hard to wait to see Axel Ibot, the young coryphee who was an eye catcher in the Peasant PdD. Ibot, however, doesn't always have control of his energy and enthusiasm which results in some precarious finishes. He's hard not to love, though. Yann Saiz and Axel Ibot – remember those names!
Last night's Myrtha, Nolwenn Daniel, did a fine job as did Laura Hecquet the evening before. Both possessed more authority than Emilie Cozette's Myrtha earlier in the run, although Cozette's performance improved tremendously from her first Myrtha to her second to her third. Ms. Daniel and Ms. Hecquet got their details and energy in place on their first and only outings.
It may be unique to ABT that Myrtha can be as important or even more important a performance than Giselle and Albrecht simply because ABT has such enormously talented dancers in the role. The Myrthas as performed by Veronika Part, Stella Abrera, and Gillian Murphy have become their own reasons for us to purchase tickets and are criteria for selecting which performances to attend. Not so with other companies including the Paris Opera Ballet where Myrtha claims her traditional importance but not more.
Thursday evening Dorothée Gilbert and Josua Hoffalt danced Giselle and Albrecht. Ms. Gilbert was a much more "knowing" Giselle and much more sophisticated in the art of flirting with Albrecht than the other Giselles. Her technique was so solid and so unflappable that it was somewhat difficult to imagine Giselle as frail or fragile. When dancing with her partner it seemed that she was of the upper class whereas he was more of a commoner. It's not that Hoffalt danced badly; he did not. But he was not at the level of Gilbert and did not have the elegant lines of Matthew Ganio, the batterie and turns of Karl Paquette, or the dramatic abilities of Nicolas Le Riche. Nor did it seem that there was much natural chemistry between Gilbert and Hoffalt.
Act II of the Gilbert/Hoffalt performance was very enjoyable. Ms. Gilbert's upper body was extremely expressive. Her lovely, long neck bent from side to side and convinced us she was otherworldly. Her arabesques perched on balance but still breathed beautifully. Her rapid-fire bourrees in parallel as she backed away from Albrecht were the fastest bourrees that Haglund has ever seen – and they were silent.
This week of Giselles made it feel like New York finally got the classical ballet that it had been waiting for all year. With a bit of rest, Haglund would be ready for another week of Giselles by the Paris Opera Ballet. It has been quite the privilege to see this wonderful company these past two weeks, and we should all hope that the company returns as soon as possible.
The final Pump Bump Award, a little Louboutin gold, is bestowed upon Clairemarie Osta for granting us the opportunity to see her final and penultimate career performances - both of which were highlights of the company's visit. Hopefully, Ms. Osta understood that the flower tossers last night were accustomed to calibrating their throws for the Met Opera House. (Flowers are rarely thrown in the Koch Theater.) Consequently, the flower pitches did not always complete their arcs over the orchestra pit. But enough of those flowers landed at her feet so that she certainly understood New York's gratitude.