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by Oksana Khadarina
June 16, 2005 -- Kennedy Center Opera House, Washington D.C.
“Spirits in white gowns... the snow-white wilis who waltz pitilessly the whole night long... What a pretty ballet one could make of that!” wrote prominent French writer and critic Théophil Gautier in 1841, inspired by a legend from Heinrich Heine’s novel De l’Allemagne. This is how the greatest romantic ballet Giselle or Les Wilis (the original title) was conceived. History has it that composer Adolphe Adam completed the music score in a week. And what great music it was! Adam’s music with its enchanting leitmotifs tailored to each personage of the story made history of the practice of repackaging existing songs for ballet.
Giselle is the tragic story of a young peasant girl, sweet and innocent, who fell in love with the wrong man. Love and passion, jealousy and betrayal, madness and death, and in the end, forgiveness and salvation, this drama has it all. This ballet has become a staple of The Maryinsky (Kirov) Ballet repertoire since 1884, after Marius Petipa revised the original Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot choreography.
The present Kirov company has many talented ballerinas capable of dancing the title role. Twenty seven-year old Daria Pavlenko, the company’s youngest principal, is definitely one of them. And she proved it on June 16, the opening night of the Kirov’s Giselle at the Kennedy Center Opera House.
Pavlenko brings exceptional ingenuity and charm to her role. Her Giselle was naïve and shy, fun-loving and flirtatious, yet capable of deep feelings. In the pantomine scenes of the first act, she masterfully expressed a wide array of emotions: happiness, sadness, disbelief, and finally insanity. I was entranced by her performance of the famous Mad Scene. Ms. Pavlenko demonstrated that she is not only a superb dancer but also a great dramatic actress. The role of Count Albrecht was danced that evening by Igor Kolb, a 10-year veteran of the company. Tall, handsome, and very athletic, it was hard not to fall in love with him. Kolb’s Albrecht was the embodiment of success and pride. With a trademark smile on his face, he perceived little Giselle more as a trophy than a sweetheart. He enjoyed the conquest of her heart and was after a good time. Together they danced effortlessly and joyfully, obviously delighted in each other’s company. They made a beautiful couple, indeed. Dmitry Pykhachev danced the role of the less fortunate suitor – Hans (aka Hilarion). On the basis of sheer dancing ability, I would have definitely gone for Hans if I were Giselle. Pykhachev's performance was top notch, literally flying across the stage exhibiting gorgeous jetes. His character, deep down, was really heroic. He was the one who tried to save Giselle from the consequences of Albrecht’s deceit. He pulled the sword out of her hands when she was about to commit suicide. When she died, he was the first to come to her grave, tenderly bearing a small bouquet of flowers.
But in the end it turned out to be the Wilis’ night! After the intermission the curtain rose on the second act revealing a spooky cemetery covered with fog (courtesy of a fog machine). Viktoria Tereshkina as Myrtha, the Queen of Wilis, appeared onstage moving so elegantly and softly as if flowing in the air... This was the beginning of what’s known as one of the greatest Ballet Blanc (White Ballets) in the history of ballet. The hallmark of the Kirov, the female corps de ballet, was at its best that evening. Dressed in white tulle gowns, ballerinas created an atmosphere of magic and surreal splendor. They danced in perfect unison forming beautiful diagonals, linked arm in arm. Daria Pavlenko as a Wili was simply mesmerizing. As a spirit she danced with greater eloquence and assurance and looked more alive than in the first act. It was magical.
One hundred and sixty five years since its creation, the ballet Giselle still captivates hearts and fills theaters to full capacity. What makes this ballet so unique, loved and long-lived? First and for most, it’s the music. The beauty of Adam’s score will keep this ballet thriving for years to come. The other factor that helped this ballet to survive for so long is the primary heroine, Giselle. She is the most fascinating character in the history of ballet, and a dream role for every aspiring ballerina.
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