When America’s middle tier ballet companies tour Eastern or Western Europe and present Balanchine works as part of a program, there are probably some in the audience who are disappointed because they were expecting to see something on the level of New York City Ballet. After all, the dancing comes from America; it’s Balanchine; there are standards to uphold. When a ballet company from St. Petersburg comes to a major stage in New York with Petipa on its main course platter, it’s hard not to expect something tasty through and through. Expectations are high because St. Petersburg is, practically speaking, Chez Petipa.
So it was somewhat disappointing to see that the Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Giselle really didn’t approach the level of the extraordinary Giselles that St. Petersburg has exported to us over the years. There were some satisfying moments in Wednesday afternoon’s performance – it’s always nice to discover promising new dancers – but overall the performance was a snooze that didn’t wake up until Albrecht’s variation in Act II.
The 2007 production by Nikita Dolgushin is thin on mime, simplifies some of the choreography, and employs an odd usage of the quite stunning scenery.
Our Giselle and Albrecht for the afternoon were Anastasia Soboleva and Victor Lebedev. Both are quite young – she graduated from the Bolshoi’s feeder school in 2010 and he graduated from the Vaganova Academy in 2010. But it was not the debut for either even though at times it looked like it might have been.
When Soboleva popped out of her cottage for the first time, we instantly fell in love with her exquisitely long and finely shaped arms, her beautiful face which looked as though she could be our own Sarah Lane’s sister, and her wholesome, unaffected charm. But some labored hops on pointe, the substitution of attitude turns with the leg in front instead of behind, loosely pointed feet, and some miscalculated arabesques in Act I dampened our enthusiasm. Act II, however, revealed a more composed and focused artist but still there were some technical problems in Giselle’s variations. The developpes a la seconde were shaky and extremely high but without a finely formed foot at the end. The penche arabesque was frightfully unsteady. But here in Act II, Soboleva was able to transform her character from life to spirit through the use of her delicate arms and elegant neck.
In Act I, Lebedev’s Albrecht was not particularly engaged in what was happening on stage, but he likely wasn't too worried about it because of what he had up his purple sleeves for Act II. A beautifully proportioned danseur whose turnout escapes him frequently, Lebedev raised his dancing another level or three in Act II. In his variations, he flew down the diagonal with assembles each of which ended with a soulful and extraordinary flexible backbend. His arabesques and attitudes were gorgeous in form, dramatically balanced, and exceeded those of Giselle’s. His pleadings with the Wilis and his efforts to escape to the right and then to the left conveyed his desperation and his loss of will. When Myrtha finally commanded him to perform his entrechat sixes, it seemed that he had nothing left to give. But oh wait, 35 entrechat sixes later, he finally flung himself onto the forest’s floor in a heap of exhaustion. The roar of the audience drowned out the howling of the hungry Wilis. Giselle burst into the action, and saved him.
The forest scenery in Act II curiously rose up and down, sometimes creating the effect of being blown by the wind. Giselle’s grave was in the downstage corner, but there were other graves along the back of the stage. When Giselle made her final exit, she bourreed not toward her own grave but upstage toward the other grave markers in the back. It looked like maybe she might return to a grave other than her own. Wouldn't that be an interesting twist?
Myrtha was performed by Irina Kosheleva. Though magisterial, her grand allegro often seemed forced. The front leg and foot of the grand jetes were high above a dropped torso. There was no sense of wisp or flight in her jumps. Irritated woman, yes; vengeful spirit, no. After seeing Sam Shepard’s take on revenge in A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations) at Signature Theatre on Tuesday night, we think perhaps someone should give him a shot at enhancing Myrtha’s scheme. Holy bloodbath, Batman; but Shepard sure does have a way with words.
Hilarion, in this production referred to as The Gamekeeper, was excellently portrayed by Andrey Kasyanenko. His dance to the death before Myrtha and the Wilis was one of the most dramatic sections of the performance.
The demi-soloists and corps de ballet were proficient in both acts. Act I included a nice touch in which the peasants, both men and women, criss-crossed the stage in a manner that seemed to foreshadow the voyage of the Wilis in Act II. The Peasant PdD was performed by Anna Kuligina and Ivan Zaytsev who had all of the correct technical change in their pockets. The Wilis were mostly very lovely if at times a little noisy in the feet.
It was a treat to see the Mikhailovsky Ballet with its very own artists instead of a crew of imports who obscure the true picture of the company. We’re going to check back in on Victor Lebedev on Friday for Don Quixote to see what his Basilio brings. In the meantime, we’ll bestow upon him the H.H. Pump Bump Award, a Gucci stiletto in royal purple.