Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ah, Giselle!

Please, please, please look at this wonderful series of photos of American Ballet Theatre's Giselle, performed this week at the Metropolitan Opera House: 

‘Giselle’ - The New York Times > Arts > Slide Show > Slide 1 of 15

The great ballerina Nina Ananiashvili, who has a lot on her professional and personal plates, showed us what talent, sensitivity, technique, and long experience can bring to the iconic role of Giselle. Now in her forties, she can still, as do the best of them, convey the ardor and naïveté of a young girl in love. She looks great, too. This from a dancer who is a national hero in her native republic of Georgia, director of the newly re-formed Georgian State Ballet, and a wife and mother to boot. 

Mme. Ananiashvili (this traditional honorific is still used for divas and major ballerinas) was fortunate in her leading man. José Manuel Carreño, one of Cuba's gifts to us and surely one of the world's handsomest men, was her partner last evening. With José Manuel, one always has the feeling that the ballerina is in the safest and most considerate of hands. And he nailed every dance aspect as well, with seeming effortlessness. He makes every ballerina look good, whether she needs extra help or not. (The photos in the slide show depict the equally talented and handsome Angel Corella, who did the first performance. ABT is particularly rich in great male dancers.)

Ananiashvili's technique remains solid. I have never really cared for the famous series of sautés on one pointe in Giselle's Act I solo—to me, it's a stunt step that doesn't really belong in a Romantic ballet— but she makes them look as good as they possibly can. Mainly, this dancer goes far beyond technique, and the memory that lingers is the wonderfully fluid, supernatural-looking use of her upper torso, shoulders and arms. But look at the photos. The photographer Erin Baiano, a new name to me, has really captured the salient moments of this great and charming old ballet.

Gillian Murphy, as the icy Queen of the Wilis, Myrtha, turned in her usual fine and serious work. (I wrote a profile of Gillian, a lovely and modest young woman, for Dance Magazine some time ago.) She can meet any challenge that almost any ballet throws at her. 

Giselle is one old chestnut that fully lives up to the number from A Chorus Line, "Everything Is Beautiful at the Ballet." It stands the test of time better than any older classic ballet, having the most felicitous combination of subject, scenario, music, and choreography (as much as we can know of the original, dance being such an ephemeral art and no video recording available in the 1840s). Certainly, everything was beautiful last evening. Old lithographs came to life. The legendary 19th-century ballerina Carlotta Grisi, the original Giselle, is shown at the top in an 1844 lithograph by Challamel.

Further re Giselle, I'm reminded of a puckish friend who decided that if Giselle were an opera (actually, there is one based on the same material—Puccini's early Le villi), one of the arias, set to the famous "daisy-petal" theme, would go: "I'm Giselle (la di da); I'm not well...."

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