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St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre - 'Giselle'

Ballet is a contact sport

by Toba Singer

February 19, 2005 -- Marin Civic Center, San Rafael, California

[The reviewer suffered an orthopedic injury/accident upon arrival at the theater to view this performance, and begs the reader's indulgence for any omissions resulting thereby--ed.]

"Giselle": Names weren’t specified in accompanying program that gave all casts for all performances. Whoever the dancer was, she seemed in touch with her vulnerability, and eager to get in the game, though her petal tearing had a definite fatalist quality: We need merry intrigue, not gloomy foreshadowing in the courtship scene. Albrecht is eager and impetuous, but not as good at ballet as his rival Hilarion. He, too, is fatalistic, more resigned than angry when he discovers that, with only one (short) life to live, humble Giselle has already proven fickle. Tepid dancing by the corps doesn’t add any froth to the plot, and Giselle’s mother seems to be suffering from either prolonged post-partum depression or a borderline personality, as she disinterestedly sweeps the front yard over and over. The ions tip the energy in a negative direction—like maybe it has rained recently —which indeed it has outside the theater, coating the broken pavement with slippery mud. But back to the clearing in the woods…

The aristocratic hunting party is costumed in lush claret and royal blue velvet, whereas the peasants are barely covered by their filmy pastels. A dazzling, pearl gray satin ensemble overlays Berthe’s hauteur. Albrecht’s scabbard and monogrammed mantle have been secreted away by Hilarion to foreshadow bad news that will break all in good time. Meanwhile, we get a robust peasant pas, free of such constraints as pointed feet. The hopping ronds de jambes en pointe are adept, but the men’s variation makes us wonder whether the lad dancing is a fifth-year student whose career will greatly depend upon finding fifth position before completion of Level Six. The women’s variation is awkwardly off-center. The second men’s puts all the freight on the cabrioles, leaving heads uncoordinated with varied and scattering body parts, and other details unpolished.

The return of the corps to the stage ushers in échappés that bring to mind the mashing of grapes—all very peasant-present, but the whole point of échappé is to use it to abandon, not deepen, one’s relationship with the floor. With Berthe’s second entrance, it’s “Meet the Parents” time. As the ancestor-driven class conflict deepens, nobody’s parents appear to adopt a festive mien, each indicating that his or her child deserves better, and by then, you are almost ready to concede the point…When the corps turns its back on Giselle, and the overcrowded stage is, for an instant, free of relentless pushing, shoving, and flexed feet, you can see that tonight’s Giselle has a beautiful, lengthened arm, and is enchanting. When she dies, the curtain opens once, twice, three times (She nonetheless remains a peasant, not a Lady) on the tableau of her bereaved survivors, resulting in—how shall I say it?—overkill!

At intermission, I hear a comment from a veteran of many "Giselle" performances. He says, “It looks like a regional ballet company, plus a few guest artists.” When I see him again at the end, he has revised his estimate upward, based on the second act, but I’m inclined to go with his first mind, which for me, bagged it!

Act II: Hilarion stumbles around the Wili World, staring at nothing in particular above his head for what seems like an eternity, and that could be the point. Then the stage is inexplicably empty for a long 30 seconds or so. Did someone (whose name we don’t know) miss a cue? Mirtha bourées on, gives us two distended penchées, and bourées off and on again. Is Fellini in the house? A member of the gala-snockered audience burps, punctuating the dancer-less silence. I return to this moment in my morphine-induced delirium at Kaiser-San Rafael [a local hospital--ed], nursing the fervent hope that whatever revenue was gained by the preceding gala will be invested in asphalt for the parking lot and its environs.

The Wilis make their entrance—and it sounds as if they have traded pointe shoes for air brakes—about as ethereal as the Chatanooga Choo-Choo rumbling into Track 29! This all settles down into a nice voyagé, though the stage is so crowded that the audience can’t really see how those arabesques are looking in the rear ranks. Giselle’s coupé jetés are expert. This is turning out to be very much her showcase. Albrecht does a lot of running on and off, with little dancing in between; but it becomes clear during the revoltades that it is his pumped elevation that has carried him this far. The corps dances its Wili roles better than its peasant roles. I’m thinking that this could very well be a metaphor. After all, St. Petersburg is a regional company, bereft of the cultural patrimony it might have had when the name of its city was Leningrad. It’s not that I at all lament the loss of the savage legacy of Stalin, but for me, what is in evidence here is the deplorable absence of Lenin and the resources and exacting cultural standards that were fully manifest in his revolutionary era.

Edited by Staff.

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