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by Carmel Morgan
February 8, 2011 -- The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC
As often has been the case, the opening night of the Mariisnky Ballet’s Washington, DC visit
featured the ever-popular Diana Vishneva in the lead role of “Giselle.” No surprise there. The
surprise what that Vishneva seemed uncharacteristically vulnerable in Act I. Gone was her
usually booming confidence and flawless dancing. She teetered in a few spots and showed
oddities in her footwork at times, making me worry she might be ill, injured, intoxicated,
or jet-lagged. But perhaps Vishneva simply honed her acting skills and danced the part as
the weak and helpless little peasant girl Giselle is meant to be? Andrian Fadeyev, as Count
Albrecht, partnered Vishneva, but he, too, although princely, seemed slightly unsteady. When
he completed jumps, you could sometimes see his ankles rock to and fro like Jell-O, as if he’d
landed on shaky surface instead of the solid stage. In the peasant pas de deux, Maria Shirinkina
and Alexey Timofeyev were solid, but uninspiring. The slow tempo of the music made their
dancing seem strangely heavy.
Act I did not deliver anything spectacular whatsoever. Ballet patrons who were wowed by
the Bolshoi’s rousing “Spartacus” last year (like myself), may have been disappointed at the
rather lackluster dancing and shabby set (the cottages were flimsy, and looked not quaint to me,
but cheap). However, it’s probably unfair to compare “Giselle” to “Spartacus.” “Giselle” is
undisputedly a quieter, softer sort of story ballet. In the great Russian ballet wars, the “Bolshoi”
is typically known for its bold athleticism, while the Mariinsky is praised for its delicate artistry.
“Giselle” is exactly the sort of ballet that suits the Mariinsky’s artistic strengths, and yet Act I
failed impart much of a sense of the company’s enviable artistry.
The corps actually provided the best moments in Act I. Here, the Mariinsky offered unparalleled
perfection. The women, in particular, danced with exquisite timing, despite the painfully slow
music. Their remarkable synchronicity and uniformity of style really stood out and saved Act I
from putting me to sleep.
Act II, thankfully was a different story (well, the same story, of course, but with better dancing!
). Maybe Vishneva downed an energy drink, or got a pep talk during intermission? Giselle in
the afterlife didn’t resemble the mousy Giselle of Act I in the least. Albrecht, too, suddenly
had more life in him, even as he was dancing toward death (from which Giselle, the big-hearted
bumpkin, rather inexplicably decided to save him). The torn apart couple also displayed more
chemistry than they did in Act I. Vishneva evoked genuine tenderness as she leaned over
Albrecht in a touching effort of compassion and protection. Ekaterina Kondaurova made an apt
icy Queen of the Willis. And the corps continued to dance well, floating as prettily as Giselle
fans could dream of witnessing and finding impressive control in the smallest of movements.
Sadly, however, the ghostly pale Willis looked like the man-eating plant from Little Shop of
Horrors has rested her green tentacles on them. Fastened atop each of the pretty white bodices
and skirts, was a long tendril of green ivy creeping up on a diagonal, which was distracting and,
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