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'Giselle' from the Bolshoi

David Hallberg (Albrecht) and Svetlana Zakharova (Giselle) in Giselle, Bolshoi Ballet (photo by Elena Fetisova)

Washington has had no shortage of Giselle performances in the last decade, from the Mariinsky Ballet (twice, in 2006 and 2011), the Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris in 2012, and the Washington Ballet just last year. Here it is again on the stage of the Kennedy Center Opera House, where it opened last night, in the 1986 updating by Yuri Grigorovich from the Bolshoi Ballet (watch on YouTube), which last made the trip from Moscow to Washington two years ago. One could be excused from feeling a little "Giselled out," especially given that all of these Russian and French companies dance choreography based on that of Marius Petipa, with only minor differences among them. It does not help that the Bolshoi's artistic director Sergei Filin told the Washington Post's Sarah Kaufman that the choice of what ballet to perform at the Kennedy Center is not his to make -- "The decision is based on ticket sales," he said. Ugh.

Other Reviews:

Sarah Kaufman, Bolshoi Ballet’s uncommonly intimate ‘Giselle,’ at the Kennedy Center (Washington Post, May 22)

---, Bolshoi Ballet’s Sergei Filin, nearly blind but unbowed: ‘The dancing, I see perfectly’ (Washington Post, May 17)

---, Spring Preview Dance: Bolshoi Ballet will bring ‘Giselle’ to the Kennedy Center (Washington Post, January 31)

Laura Cappelle, Giselle, La Sylphide, The Little Mermaid, Stanislavsky Theatre, Moscow (Financial Times, April 22)

Alastair Macaulay, Bolshoi’s ‘Giselle,’ Geared to Virtuosity and a Vocal Audience (New York Times, April 6)
Certainly one can always tolerate another Giselle if the leads are danced as beautifully as they were by prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova and the company's relatively new principal David Hallberg, formerly of American Ballet Theater, in his first performance in the U.S. since he joined the Bolshoi. They are gorgeous together, well matched in height, line, and temperament, and this seemed to seal the relationship of their Giselle and Albrecht, characters who are united in the story through the act of dancing. The coy dialogue of instruments in the music of their first duet matched perfectly with their corresponding gestures of reaching out and pulling back, both shy and yet emboldened, a scene that is recalled poignantly several times in the score. Hallberg was strong, able to face down Hans the gamekeeper with his eyes, and in the second act, transformed into a spirit, Zakharova looked like something made out of vapor, after having become mentally unstrung in the mad scene (an effect that an errant raising of the curtain just before intermission half-spoiled). Her Giselle did not supplant that of Diana Vishneva in my estimation, but it came close.

The Act I divertissement, the harvest festival, is a rather rustic affair in this production, complete with jangling tambourines and matching the somewhat sketchy set backdrops with their autumn yellow smears. It serves, if anything, to highlight the special nature of the two leads and their beautiful dancing. The Bolshoi's corps de ballet danced with precision and ghoulish coldness in the second act, the stage bathed in cold blue light, led by a frowning and vengeful Ekaterina Shipulina as the Queen of the Wilis. The Bolshoi's music director, Alexander Kopylov, did the honors at the podium, his gestures not always keeping the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra turning on a dime together through the tempo adjustments. That he rushed through some of the music, like the introduction to Act I, did not help. The brass were heraldic and unified in the hunting scenes, the strings less so, including some groans and grunts in the viola solo during the pas de deux.

This performances will be repeated, with different casts, through May 25 in the Kennedy Center Opera House. The only performance with the cast reviewed here, on Thursday night, is already sold out.

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