ABT GUEST-STAR NATALIA OSIPOVA'S ATHLETICALLY ASTOUNDING GISELLE

Top photo from here; bottom photo by Mark Haegeman, taken from here.

The Bolshoi! Russian ballerinas! Insane extensions, insane jumps, insane speed!

Last night Bolshoi ballerina Natalia Osipova guest-performed with American Ballet Theater as Giselle. David Hallberg was her Albrecht, Jared Matthews Hilarion, and Veronika Part was Myrta. (Go here for a synopsis of that ballet).

It was all-around some of the best dancing I’ve ever seen, but I have to say, on a scale of 1-10, in terms of chemistry between Osipova and Hallberg, I’d give it a 1.5, and in terms of all-around acting (excluding Kristi Boone’s captivating turn as Bathilde and a rather amusing Vitali Krauchenka as her father), a 2. Regarding the chemistry, to be fair, Osipova was originally supposed to dance with Ethan Stiefel, but because of an injury, David danced in Ethan’s place. A Twitter friend DM’d me asking why she didn’t dance with Angel Corella and I think it’s a good question. He would have been a better fit size-wise and stylistically for her.

But as I said, the dancing was tremendous. During the second act, Osipova did a develope to her ear, she did those hops with her arms in the air as if she had springs in her toe shoes or had a trampoline beneath her, and she did that flat-footed jumping turn at the speed of damn light. Seriously, when she made her entrance during the Wilis act, I put my opera glasses to my face, watched her walk out, and suddenly she was gone from my frame of view. I searched around and around for her with the damn glasses attached to my face wondering where in the world she went. When everyone around me suddenly started screaming BRAAAVAAAA BRAAVAAA BRAAAVAAA, I nearly dropped the glasses. When I took them away, I saw her mid-jumping turn going around and around, in a blur.

Audience (largely Russian, at least in the back orchestra) went stark raving nuts for her. I nearly had my left eardrum blown out over the ear-high develope. And those hopping jumps — seriously, she was half-way to the ceiling. I mean, when Paloma did them (I really did like her Giselle the more I think about it) she raised her head, like those jumps were a prayer to return to life. But here Natalia was going boing boing boing, up to the sky, head straight forward probably so as not to take away from her springing height. I mean, I don’t know. I love to be moved by the image a step creates, as Paloma did, but I can’t deny the thrill of those insanely high jumps and that lightening-fast turn and that insanely high develope.

The high bravura jumps in the first, peasant act, though, worked with her characterization. Her Giselle was all frolicking gaity, a girl in love with dance, in love with life. Her mad scene was over-the-top histrionics. The critic next to me described it as traditional.

And then David. Well, at the beginning he did his Albrecht as a romantic not a carefree playboy. But his was a romantic who was pretty madly infatuated with her. I think David is trying hard to get rid of his nice guy image. He rapped on her door like her mother’d better let her out or else. And when his squire didn’t full-out approve of his peasant costume, I thought he was going to kill him. And after the mad scene, he had kind of a mad scene of his own: I thought he was going to throw poor Jared’s Hilarion straight into the orchestra pit.

But ditto for David on the virtuosic dancing. I think by the time the second act came around, he was following Natalia’s bravura lead, doing sky-high jetes. He only did a Marcelo throw back of the head on the first jump in the diagonal, and then did the ten bizillion entrechats, same as Roberto Bolle. But David’s Nureyev feet!  His feet are so heavenly — I think he has the best of any dancer around today, at least any dancer I’ve ever seen. Those entrechats were from God.

As Myrta, Veronika Part jeted around the stage like I’ve never seen her leap before. She really takes up the stage when she leaps and she appeared to just be flying. I don’t even think I noticed all those jumps before! Her Myrta was icy cold and remained so throughout. Of course it was hard to concentrate on her face with all the theatrics going on behind her, but I didn’t see her peeking over her shoulder like Michele Wiles did. After she directed Hilarion’s death, she turned from him, toward us, and gave a wickedly simple little “and that’s that” nod right to the beat of the music, right as he fell, a smug smirk crossing her lips. Splendidly frightful!

I loved Kristi Boone as Bathilde, Albrecht’s betrothed princess. This is a pure character role, no dancing, and she was radiant in that gorgeous red dress, initially all supremely bitchy and regal, then softening when Giselle started pressing her skirttails to her face, allowing the poor girl to have one thing in common with nobility — a love of clothing. Then, when she realized Albrecht’s betrayal, instead of stomping all over Giselle’s pride and insisting Albrecht kiss her gloved hand, she looked more wounded and discomfited.

Vitali Krauchenka was rather amusing as Bathilde’s father, the prince, probably unwittingly so. He seemed to have his eyes half-closed the whole time and the way he looked at her, following her all around as she decided where to sit, whom to talk to, etc., it looked like he was saying “yes, yes, miss priss, whatever you want.” It cracked me up. I think he might have been better opposite Maria Bystrova’s Bathilde though. Hers was more of an unrelenting snobby witch.

Hee Seo and Blaine Hoven were very good in the peasant pas de deux. It was one of the most entertaining peasant pdd’s I’ve seen, which I guess went along with the virtuosity of the whole night.

Only the Russians :) I’ll be excited to see more of Osipova next week. She’s dancing La Sylphide with Herman Cornejo on Monday night and again with David Hallberg on Wednesday evening. Go here for the full schedule.

16 Comments

  1. I'm sorry I missed Osipova—you know I enjoy pyrotechnics! I loved the matinee, though. It was Maria Riccetto, filling in for Xiomara, along with Herman Cornejo and Stella Abrera as a very regal Myrta. Riccetto gave a beautiful and very graceful performance. She did all of the little things extremely well. I mean, after thousands of years of human civilization, I think she may have perfected the bow/curtsy yesterday afternoon.

  2. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Thanks Michael — I wanted to see Stella and Herman but couldn't fit it in. I'm glad she's back — well, I'm glad they're both back; they've both been out with injuries. I'm hoping to see Herman next week. Yes, Maria is so sweet and graceful :) I can imagine she'd be a good Giselle since she's so small and delicate.

    Congratulations again on your novel being reviewed in the New York Times today!!!

  3. It was Leann Underwood who did those fantastic back arches(renverses, i think they're called).

  4. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Oh great — thank you Jose! Those were gorgeous!

  5. I got tired just reading your review. Sounds like she thought she was in the Olympics of ballet and she even looks like a skater in the picture above. It doesn't sound much like Giselle to me though.

  6. I'm so glad you got to go! I was tempted when the email came announcing her last minute replacement–but I just had too much to do. It's great to read your report. (And you saw Hee Seo!) I'll have to look for Osipova in the future. I do wish the Bolshoi were coming to NYC and not just the Kennedy Center. I do love their dancers.

  7. We went to see our first ballet just because Natalia Osipova was dancing, and now we are definetly hooked on ballet. I thought maybe I would be bored, but I loved every minute of it and could have clapped at the end for hours.

  8. Fascinating, Tonya! You make me so envious that I'm not in NY – your fumbling with your opera glasses made me laugh. I've done that too!

    It's too bad that chemistry is a much overlooked part of performance, prioritized beneath technique at least. The most memorable Giselle in my mind is Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets, not because they're the most technical of dancers, but they melted into each other in the second act. Despite their harsh circumstances, they were swirling together wrapped up in their own world in their last desperate and precious moments together.

    Pyrotechnics is an interesting thing. I think it should serve a purpose, and never be in it for itself. (I'm thinking of a few dancers who do this, and even though their technique is amazing, I sometimes get annoyed by it because it's not enough.) Sometimes technique can feed into a character – a sky high developpe can have a breathless, other worldly quality that can point to her as a Wili and not an earthy peasant girl. Giselle's spinning hops on one foot in arabesque can have the effect of a cartoon tornado when a character's transforming into something else, yet it's frightening (like a possessed person) and terrifyingly ethereal at the same time (Maria Kochetkova was especially good at this). I was most recently impressed by this one jaw-dropping balance that Yuan Yuan Tan did not only because of its inhuman impossibility, but as a character inhabiting another world in the second act (in the opening night gala).

    Ah I do love Giselle. :) If I was in NY, I would literally be at ABT every single night to see Vishneva, Cornejo, and everybody else. Thanks for your generous takes on them, and I'm especially looking forward to your take on Herman!

  9. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Thank you for commenting, Tom! I'm glad you liked the ballet so much. Which one did you see — her Giselle, or La Sylphide? I just wrote about La Sylphide as well. Yes, that is definitely one thing about Osipova — never boring!

  10. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    I know — if I had the money, I would have been at every single night too! Oh, I so wish I could see Maria Kochetkova in Giselle! That's interesting what you say about pyrotechnics — I like them too and definitely think they have their place in making ballet exciting, and I also agree that sometimes they can actually further the characterization. It's funny but I didn't even think of Giselle in the second act as being a ghost — I was still thinking of her as a girl just getting ready to be inducted into the Wilis, still kind of human. But you're totally right — those hops on one foot are like someone transforming into someone else and the super-high develope can show that she's now of another realm. I hadn't thought of it like that but you're right, Jolene.

    Still, something made me want to laugh when she was doing the high jumps — the ballon. I mean, laugh in the way that you laugh during the Flames of Paris pdd or Corsaire, when someone is doing something so astounding you can't believe your eyes. And that's something I feel I shouldn't be feeling when seeing Giselle. I felt awed by her but not moved, in other words. James Wolcott seemed to feel the same, as did the critic who sat next to me, Eric Taub (who writes for Ballet Co and Demicontretemps), so I know I'm not alone. But on the other hand, Alastair Macaulay was totally overwhelmed by the ballet and loved everything she did — he mentioned some of the same things as you, thinking those jumps were a sign that she was now an ethereal creature.

    So there are definitely different feelings toward her as an artist.

    I would love to see Yuan Yuan Tan too — Jolene some time we have to trade places for a season :)

  11. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Hehe, I like how you phrase it — it was like the Olympics! Yeah, it was definitely astounding, thrilling, awe-inducing. But it didn't feel like Giselle normally feels to me.

  12. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Thanks Marie! I wish the Bolshoi would come here too. It's been a while since they've been here.

  13. Anne Coburn Whitmore

    “Sometimes technique can feed into a character – a sky high developpe can have a breathless, other worldly quality that can point to her as a Wili and not an earthy peasant girl.”
    – yes, so true.

    “Giselle's spinning hops on one foot in arabesque can have the effect of a cartoon tornado when a character's transforming into something else, yet it's frightening (like a possessed person) and terrifyingly ethereal at the same time (Maria Kochetkova was especially good at this).”
    – yes, exactly! — this is really *VERY well put*, Jolene! :)

  14. EXQUISITE LITTLE DANCER. HOPE WE SEE MUCH MORE OF HER.

    JOSEPHINE

  15. EXQUISITE LITTLE DANCER. HOPE WE SEE MUCH MORE OF HER.

    JOSEPHINE

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