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American Ballet Theatre - 'Giselle'

Vishneva’s Giselle in a class of its own

by Jerry Hochman

July 12, 2005 -- Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York City

It is not easy to conjure up the appropriate superlative to describe the performance that Diana Vishneva gave as Giselle with ABT last night: masterful, superb, sensational, stunning, fantastic, extraordinary, world-class. They are all appropriate, yet insufficient. Her portrayal was better than any simple superlative could indicate. She just took my breath away. Hers was a Giselle to cherish.

Once a dancer gets to the level of ABT and other internationally renowned companies, he or she should be able to do almost anything that is asked of him or her. So, to some extent, comparing dancers’ performances is at least as subjective as objective. Was Natalia Makarova better than Carla Fracci, Alessandra Ferri better than Marianna Tcherkassky, Cynthia Harvey better than Amanda McKerrow, or Alina Cojocaru better than Nadezhda Pavlova? This is impossible to say. But regardless of the standard, Vishneva’s Giselle is so good it is virtually indescribable.

Grabbing the audience immediately and never letting go, she executed every step, every nuance, perfectly, but the unusually long and liquid arms that she used so well to accent the Romantic poses in Act II merit special mention. And while she was not quite as fragile or other-worldly as Gelsey Kirkland, who in my mind was the benchmark Giselle, she was stronger, earthier and every bit as lyrical and weightless. Vishneva’s Giselle was not just an innocent peasant girl in love or a loving, forgiving spirit; her Giselle had a purity and timelessness that makes you cry, sing and soar all at the same time.

But although Vishneva commands every inch of the stage, “Giselle” is not just Giselle. Part of what made Vishneva’s performance great was that other members of the cast were outstanding as well. I had anticipated seeing a “Russian” Giselle.  In addition to Veronica Part’s Myrta, that gorgeous Russian wolfhound, Vladimir Malakhov was originally scheduled to dance Albrecht, but he was replaced by Angel Corella. As much as I wanted to see the novelty of all-Russian leads, Corella’s performance was masterful.

While never stealing Vishneva’s limelight, he molded an Albrecht that was as memorable as Vishneva’s Giselle. Corella did it all with surprising nobility, and his stunned disbelief at the end of Act II was different from, but as poignant as Mikhail Baryshnikov’s. As Corella performed the brisés diagonally across the stage, he seemed to be pulled by an invisible string just as Baryshnikov appeared to be. And while Baryshnikov’s dripping flowers across the stage as he left Giselle’s grave became the traditional “Giselle” closing image, Corella’s caressing of a single flower looked like a classic final image in the making.

Part’s Myrta was very good as well. She was appropriately commanding and imperious, and danced the choreography tremendously. However, at one point at the end of the opening dances for the Wilis, it looked like Part was smiling as she was dancing. If she was, she should be reminded not to, as Myrta does not smile.

The remainder of the cast was in fine form as well. Particularly notable were Sascha Radetsky, who brought a singular humanity and quiet strength to his portrayal of Hilarion; Melissa Thomas and Carmen Corella as Moyna and Zulma; and the entire corps de ballet, who were fantastic.

Vishneva’s season with ABT this year has been remarkable -- a glorious Kitri, a splendid Odette/Odile, and now a Giselle for the ages -- and the knowledgeable New York audience responded to the performance with a spontaneous standing ovation and extended curtain calls. They know a good thing when they see it, and the house appeared to be sold out. Having Vishneva as a member of the company, or even as a “permanent” guest artist, would appear to be a smart move both artistically and financially, and would be welcomed by anyone who speaks or writes in superlatives.

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