Review – Serenade and Giselle – Bolshoi Ballet at Royal Opera House

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Last night I busted the piggy bank and went for a last-minute return ticket (in the stalls!) to see the Bolshoi Ballet perform Giselle at the Royal Opera House. I hadn’t planned on seeing Giselle: Bolshoi ticket prices have been just too high (three times my normal amphitheatre prices) and I prefer to see new and interesting programming rather than the same old warhorses. But then, well, first Zakharova was going to be performing, then she dropped out but Osipova jumped into her place – and suddenly I had the possibility of seeing (or missing) a truly outstanding Giselle – well, my resistance dissolved with that dangling carrot and off I trotted like the ballet groupie I am.

However, my unexpected treat for the evening was the triumphant version of “Serenade” presented as an amuse-bouche to our main course. The orchestra’s opening bars made the hair stand up on the back of my neck – it sounded so gorgeously modern and lush and sad. And the curtain rose, and there stood a flock of gorgeous ballerinas clad in white, glowing against a blue backdrop. The piece started, and it was just the simplest of gestures, gentle transitions into standard ballet positions – but all so much more. This piece is Balanchine at his greatest – paring ballet back to pure, simple movement that all comes together into so much more, in no way lacking in emotional content because of the lack of story. I compared it to the “Apollo” I’ve seen revived so many times and can’t believe how much more depth this has – one man and several women come together but the (male) ego has gone, and instead we have gorgeous lines of arms and legs, and the heartbreaking reach of Ekaterina Krysanova for a man who, with another ballerina draped over him, seems doomed to never be able to meet her grasp and support her as she needs. Krysanova was brilliant throughout this – pliable, weightless, fully present – and as she was carried off at the end with her back arcing seemingly impossibly far back, I felt that she was being borne away to her death – while she, as a dancer, appears to be headed to greater heights. This performance will be the benchmark against which I shall judge all future “Serenades” (and many future Balanchine performances, no doubt).

Then it was on to Giselle. This was described as a “Russian staging,” and I’m not entirely sure what that means – less mime, certainly (which is good as Giselle can leave me a bit lost), but different dances in act one. A truly new bit was the dance of the engaged “peasant couple” (Anastasia Stashkevich and Viacheslav Lopatin) – dramatically creating a model against which Giselle’s disappointment with Albrecht’s duplicity can be measured. I also seemed to recall the royalty (Bathilde and her father, and, I think in some productions, Albrecht’s mother) sitting down to watch the various dances leading toward the end of act one – but other than the peasant pas de deux above and some sousing around with a keg of beer and tambourines, there was little in the way of group dancing in this production. Bonus tacky points for Bathilde’s necklace, which doubtlessly left a Christmas tree naked, and for the courtiers’ stuffed “falcons,” which I loved but were as fake as the dancing mice in the Nutcracker.

But what this was really about was Giselle. And Natalia Osipova, wow. I have never seen such perfection in the creation of character in ballet. Aside from her amazingly expressive face, which was so much more than the cartoon of acting most ballerinas pull on stage, she had the body movements down to unconscious perfection – a little head lean against Albrecht said so much – and her dance steps really illustrated the character – the way she just barely moved her feet when she was struggling created more of an impression of illness than any “fist clenched to heart” I’d seen before. This subtlety is to me what made this a great performance. I loved her brilliant whirl onto stage as a freshly risen ghost in Act 2 – her newfound strength but lack of control seemingly perfect for Wili-Giselle but an interpretation I don’t seem to have seen before. I was also blown away by her great death scene – it was as if I could see her heart exploding just before Albrecht caught her in his arms, and she was gorgeously, hopelessly dead when she landed. But these moments were merely capital letters in a long essay of an ideal performance – it was the whole of it, the words, the sentences, the thoughts – that made it all come together in a way that’s convinced me that I must, now and forever, attempt to see Ms Osipova in any story ballet she ever deigns to perform in. How lucky we were to have had her come to visit!

However, I find my enthusiasm for the rest of the show more reserved. It seemed that it just generally lacked in brilliant dancing, the kind of showcase stuff I always expect the Russians to toss in just because they can’t help but make a spectacle of themselves and their talent. I’m sure I’ve seen Myrtha look less like a tanned version the evil queen from Snow White; but Maria Allash made this character a panto villain, more like an insect than a creature with thoughts. The Wilis danced nicely but not memorably; both Albrecht and Hilarion’s “dance to the death” were lacking. This is particularly sad for Ruslan Pronin, who, as Hilarion, was utterly denied the opportunity to show his brilliance during his star turn on stage (as Roman Petukov did in the Mariinsky version). I felt Ruslan Skvortsov also missed out, as Albrecht’s last scene, dancing for his life with the Wilis, just didn’t feel nearly like he was being forced to drip every last ounce of energy out of his body (to our benefit!). So ultimately, this will not go down as the best Giselle ever, but, in fact, a lacking Giselle – except for our actual Giselle, Ms Osipova, who has given me a performance against which I think I will be judging all dancers in the future, not just performers in this role.

(This review is for a performance that took place on July 26th, 2010. The production continues today and July 27th – casting for today here and Wednesday here.)

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2 Responses to “Review – Serenade and Giselle – Bolshoi Ballet at Royal Opera House”

  1. Tubz Says:

    Hello Web CowGirl

    Totally loved the show I am still fixated by what I saw late night. There was one part at the end when Natalia Osipova came on the stage & done some explosive spins n turns & then ran off at speed. She mixed athleticism with such precision & beauty.

    Q: How do I find out about upcoming (must see) performances?

    • webcowgirl Says:

      Wow, I look for good performances by checking to see what’s on at the Royal Opera House and the cast list, then also what’s on at Sadler’s Wells! It will take a while for you to find out what performers and ballets you like. Try to see the classic story ballets and mixed rep bills (only one at the Royal Ballet this fall but do go). I highly recommend you see Birmingham Royal Ballet, both shows (Romeo & Juliet and a mixed bill) when they come to town (Sadlers’ Wells) in October. Gotta say though you should try to see everything the Bolshoi is putting on while they’re in town! Also there’s a website, ballet.co.uk, where people talk a lot about ballet, that might be useful! (There’s also English National Ballet but they don’t really rock my socks.)

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