Let’s hope that Miss Meghan fares better this weekend in her nuptials to her dally-predisposed prince than our Giselle did yesterday when the royal love of her life shattered her heart like it was candy glass.
Sarah Lane and Daniil Simkin once again had to overcome ABT’s blunder of midweek matinee casting – one of many blunders this past year including the small-balled pushing out of Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes; the overindulging and mollycoddling of the inferior, 2nd rate Misty Copeland and the over-highlighting of the homely, heavy dancing of Isabella Boylston; the over-reliance, dishonest over-selling of Lendorf and Hallberg in the schedule; the pox-party casting of the best with the worst to try to make everyone sick at the same time and try to even out sales; and the failure to eradicate the company’s dancing of McKenzie’s signature blandness. Blunder after blunder after blunder.
But yesterday Sarah and Daniil were able to turn a deaf ear to the dissonance at ABT to focus on a remarkable telling of Giselle. Their performance was a divine blend of artistry and technique, clearly more netted together than last year when there was a sense of desperation in both the audience and in Sarah’s Act II. Everyone had waited so long to see this Giselle. Sarah had waited nine years since first performing the role in Texas to show her home audience her interpretation. And then after such a resounding successful performance that surpassed the celebrina and equinarina that day, would she even ever get another chance given the pay-to-play politics of casting at ABT? That sense of desperation and the tension that accompanies it were set aside yesterday in both Giselle and the audience, and it resulted in a clarified telling and listening of the ballet’s main themes of love, betrayal, and forgiveness.
Robust dancing and vivid acting filled Act I. Sarah’s variations included arabesques that balanced lightly but made strong statements before lowering into deep penchés which foreshadowed the ghostly penchés of Act II. She showed supreme trust in Daniil’s partnering particularly during Giselle’s fainting spell when she fell backwards with such freedom that she would not have had the slightest chance of saving herself if Daniil had not swooped in to catch her.
Sarah's hops on pointe effortlessly took her all the way to the front of the stage. The final manège of pique turns was especially impressive for the stretch of the leading leg, the perch to the top of the pointe, and the beautiful second leg always quickly arriving to attach itself to the back of the knee. The authority and speed of the menage this year reached far beyond the perfectly acceptable manège which we saw last year.
Giselle’s dissent into madness was about as perfectly played as we’ve ever seen. Her face expressed a heartbreaking disconnection from reality. Her torment was ours. And her death stopped our own breath.
Daniil’s fluency in all things jumping and turning was applied strictly in service to the story. No showboating. No smirks. His Albrecht's commitment to Bathilde was the farthest thing from his mind as he chased Giselle around the village. He was in the world where he’d rather be. It seemed not to occur to him that he was doing anything wrong or that there would be any consequences until his fiancée, the glamorous Isadora Loyola, showed up on the arm of her daddy (Roman Zhurbin) to discover Albrecht’s duplicity. Here we saw the character’s – not Daniil’s – immaturity as he tried to cover up his cozy cozening in the village. His sudden realization of the adult consequences of straying off the royal path was convincing. His regret was sincere.
Act II was one of those joyful viewer events when the telling of a known story surpassed expectation. From the whirling revolutions of the awakening spin – a creepy indoctrination into the sisterhood of Wilis that Sarah had to brake slightly before transitioning into the grand allegro – to the final stretched arabesque of love above her grave, Giselle showed us that she simply could not be a rank and file cold-blooded, revenge-filled Wili. And while we recognized some of Giselle's warm-blooded characteristics from Act I, the transition to cool spirit with a heart still filled with love for Albrecht was complete and convincing. Giselle's developpes reached high with a strongly arched foot as she circled the kneeling unaware Albrecht. While some Giselles emphasize the landing position in arabesque in this moving circle, Sarah chose the more difficult emphasis on the developpe while balancing at the top with striking articulation in the pointed foot. It’s a very good choice if the ballerina can do it, but it is very difficult.
Sarah’s crisscrossing the stage opposite Daniil while holding the lilies was exquisite. Once again Daniil's variation was loaded with virtuosity in service to his story: beautiful cabrioles, deep bends in the back, blistering brises, turns in which he seemingly watched Giselle pass before him. He didn’t get all the way underneath Sarah for the first overhead lift which ended up being less solid than the perfect second lift which he held for a fairly long time. Strength is never an issue with him. Coordinating with the partner sometimes is. For the ending, Daniil chose a happy realization that he had been truly loved by Giselle and then lay across her grave. This pair gave a highly polished performance with nearly complete mastery of technical and artistic matters.
Not so for some of the supporting cast. We have seen and have been thrilled by Christine Shevchenko’s Myrta in the past, but last night she was having some kind of trouble standing on one leg that affected nearly all of her arabesque promenades. Her character seems to have hardened a bit this season into a “Myrtanator” who takes immense pleasure in eliminating men from the world. Her greatest moment last night was her highly expressive realization that Giselle’s love for Albrecht was impermeable. Alexei Agoudine was a stock Hilarion rather than trying to make the part into a principal role as has been done thrillingly by Tom Forster, Roman Zhurbin, Jared Matthews, Sascha Radetsky, Ethan Brown, and Frank Smith. The Act I Peasant Pas de Deux was danced by Catherine Hurlin and Gabe Stone Shayer, a mismatch in heights which led to some partnering issues. Catherine was lovely and confident in the technical aspects including the pirouettes that rise from the knee on the floor. Gabe is showing steady improvement. Feet and legs were cleaner, but still not clean enough. His leg lines would look longer if there was vertical muscle definition like Simkin’s legs have.
Moyna and Zulma, danced by Rachel Richardson and Lauren Post (substituting for Cassandra Trenary), were under-powered, under-rehearsed and danced without distinction.
Luis Ribagorda made Wilfred noticeable for more than running after Albrecht.
The Wilis were fine in their steps but there was nothing startlingly beautiful about them as one sees in the Mariinsky or Paris Opera Wilis. Just small tidy steps that didn’t translate into anything more than small tidy steps.
Our HH Pump Bump Award, a Giuseppe Zanotti gold stiletto exclusively for Balmain, is bestowed up Sarah Lane and Daniil Simkin for their remarkable performances as Giselle and Albrecht. If they want the mate to the pair, Simkin will have to come back next year for a redux.