The spirits were flowing freely from one end of Lincoln Center to the other on Saturday. Haglund was happy drunk as a skunk all day long.
First, you can take the afternoon’s debut cast of NYCB’s La Sylphide and just ship it to Denmark. Utterly brilliant. So brilliant that Haglund is nearly at a loss for words, but he’ll try to think up a few.
Lauren Lovette’s spirited Sylph, filled with beauty and mischief, also possessed a strong sense of Bournonville form, especially the seemingly effortless clear footwork that we have come to take for granted from her. When the curtain opened to reveal this Sylph kneeling next to the chair where James slept, we at once observed the delicacy in her arms, her graceful profile, and an expression of love that radiated all the way back to the cheap seats where Haglund was sitting on the edge of his. Lauren’s full surrender to the Bournonville style was evident in her skimming jumps in which her torso was high atop the hips and the legs created a lovely wide arc — none of these modern split jumps that some ballerinas are afraid not to execute because their modern-day casual audiences value the gymnastic elements of ballet more than the classical elements.
Anthony Huxley, his star rising so quickly and authoritatively that we knew to expect brilliance, still astonished us with the completeness of his artistry in the role of James. Would we have liked to see those double tours go left as well as right? Sure, but we’ll wait for them, and in the meantime savor every phrase of of his articulate, musical being, and now, his mastery of character development. He is riveting on stage whether in flight or standing dead still.
Lauren King’s Effie and Troy Schumacher’s Gurn were imaginatively played in earnest with a theatrical eagerness that made every moment they spent on stage one of pure joy for the audience.
Then as the Saturday sun set and the clearest skies of spring revealed the new beginnings of a beautiful waxing crescent moon, our wait came to an end. More than a decade after receiving our first promise – after more than a decade of interruptions from injury, from lesser dancers’ unrestrained ambition, and from ABT's near fatal drug-like use of guest artists, we finally got to see our own Stella Abrera’s Giselle on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House. The authority of the evening’s audience was among the highest – seven decades of alumni with scrutinizing skills of forensic scientists, many if not most of whom are plenty unhappy with ABT’s sidelining of this gorgeous dancer and other homegrown talents in favor of imported media candy.
When Stella opened the door of Giselle's cottage and first appeared on stage, there were roars from every side of the theater - roars of relief, roars of “It’s about time!” and roars of “Finally!” She gave one slight smile to acknowledge the welcome and then set about her business of portraying ballet’s most beloved village girl – launching into joyous saute ballonnes that skipped and flew while she looked in every corner for her beloved Loys who she believed was hiding from her. When he finally appeared – in the form of Vladimir Shklyarov from the Mariinsky Ballet – Giselle bloomed with love. Beautifully matched, both physically and temperamentally, they looked for all the world like they belonged together. There was much charm in their tandem grande jetes with neither straining for height in the jumps.
The Act I variations were filled with details that revealed Giselle’s weak heart and her conflict between heeding her mother’s warnings and following her own heart. When she struck a happy arabesque and bent into a deep penche with plie, we saw not only nearly unbelievably gorgeous lines but also the foreshadowing of her ghostly penches in Act II. Why the hops on pointe were tentative was a mystery as was why her variation with the attitude turns included double en dedans pirouettes that did not switch into a stepover turn. We happily noticed that Giselle’s shoes were essentially silent; so, it may be that they were a little too soft for those hops. We vote to keep the ultra soft shoes but keep working on the hops. Other than those two elements, the act was flawless and concluded with a mad scene so thoughtfully detailed and well acted that the moment of death hit hard with its emotional impact.
Shklyarov’s own variations were characterized by the elegance and magnificence that one expects from a Mariinsky principal. What a surprise it was, though, to see such warmth and rapport - two things that were not evident when Haglund saw his Romeo to Vishneva’s Juliet some years ago. And what a sensitive partner. Stella seemed to have full confidence in him every second they were on stage together.
The Act I Peasant PdD, performed by Craig Salstein and Misty Copeland, was underwhelming. The slow tempo made it all excruciatingly dull and lifeless, but seemed to be of necessity in order for the dancers to make it through. Without exception, every releve that Copeland does includes a wavering reverberation in the ankle from the force of her weight coming down on the foot. Every time. It’s simply bad technique that some teacher should have eliminated before she ever got into the corps. It looks unstable and unaesthetic. The clomping loud noise from the shoes is inexcusable, particularly when our evening’s Giselle never made a sound with hers. Where are the uniform quality standards for this company?
Tom Forster’s Hilarion is a work in progress, but we have no doubt that we’ll soon see a remarkable portrayal. In Act I Hilarion was a nice guy who sort of loved Giselle and was sort of suspicious about Loys. Act II was much, much better – his desperation and pleading were believable but his exhaustion less so.
Veronika Part’s Myrta was as beautifully vengeful as should ever be allowed. Haglund will swear that the myrtle switches she wields are getting bigger and bigger every year. When she whipped them into the air and into the wings, they whistled and we may have heard the groans of all of her victims who preceded Albrecht. Myrta’s streaming jetes soared like arrows piercing the hearts of men everywhere. Beautiful, yes, but only safe with a fourth wall separating the viewer from this angry spirit.
Act II was one for the ages – so beautiful and full of harmonious shapes and lines. The breadth of Stella’s port de bras was astonishing. Yes, the arms are indeed long, but they seemed endless in each arabesque - the energy continuing off the tips of her fingers. The lines of the legs and feet were so beautifully tapered. The flow of her movement so evocative of a weightless spirit. The iconic pose with Giselle resting in arabesque behind a kneeling Albrecht was picture perfect. As good as this Act II was, Haglund is certain that it was not Stella’s best. Another performance will include the lingering balances that have characterized her dancing for 15 years and more stability in the developpe releves.
However, we may not ever see a better Pas de Deux in Act II. The coordination between the two artists was masterful. The overhead lifts were epic and the slow, slow descent of Giselle from her horizontal position was a testament to Shklyarov’s skill and strength. His own variations were mammoth in terms of technique and drama. His 34 entrechat sixes grew in height and anxiety until he ultimately dropped to a heap on the floor while an angry and beautiful Myrta leered at him. His final wandering and collapse at Giselle’s grave revealed true remorse and suggested that the pain in his heart would remain forever. It was a very powerful ending to a most beautiful evening of Giselle.
It's terribly clear to one and all what we have missed over the years by the sidelining of such a beautiful artist as Stella Abrera, particularly given the absence in quality of dancers pushed in front of her. Normally in the world of ballet, such a brilliant performance of Giselle would yield more opportunities, growth, good luck - all those things signified by a waxing crescent moon like the one watching over last evening. But in this case, there still hangs heavy a sense of hopelessness that the inferiority in artistic direction will prevent what should rightly be.
Our golden H.H. Pump Bump First Position Award is bestowed upon Stella Abrera for her exquisite Giselle:
Visit Not My Day Job Photography for some lovely pics of last night's curtain calls.