Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Giselle, c'est moi"

Jocelyn invited me to what was apparently the ballet event of the season. Since I used to work in the ballet world (if I were to write a memoir of my time in that job, it would be called "Kooks & Freaks: My Life in Dance"), and I know how the inhabitants of that world can work themselves up into a grand tizzy in no time flat (it's just ballet, people), I take any grand pronouncement like this with mountains of grains of salt. However, the performance did sound exciting, for several reasons:

1. It was Giselle, and I've been a sucker for Giselle since I was a kid (the photos here are of the lovely Yvette Chauviré);
2. It was Saturday night at the Met, which is always a bit of a thrill;
3. The leads were to be danced by Natalia Osipova, the newest latest ballet It Girl, and David Hallberg, who is a prince among men, and therefore quite convincing in the princely roles.

So off we went, and, I must admit, it was pretty incredible. That Osipova (is not "Osipova" the perfect name for a Russian ballerina? Osipova, Osipova, Osipova - like out of an Edward Gorey book) is really something, as they say. Her jumps are incredibly high, but have that floaty look that is so captivating, and so rare. She might be jumping as high as a man, but you never see the effort; she's a dancer, not a gymnast. When she was doing the bounce series in Act 2 - boinging as if on a trampoline - she looked utterly relaxed and unchallenged, as if she were just hanging out with the Wilis, bouncing bouncing bouncing. I wouldn't have been surprised if she'd pulled out a nail file and started in on her manicure. Osipova had clearly thought through the role, and chosen an interpretation, and (for me) fully created the poor peasant girl who dies of a broken heart, then comes back as a ghost to save the man who betrayed her, who's gotten himself into trouble with the Wilis.

Speaking of the Wilis (the ghosts of women who were betrayed by their fiancés), Veronika Part in the role of the queen, Myrta, was supremely icy. Albrecht wasn't getting any pity from her, that's for sure - she barely even looked at him. And poor Hilarion (I always feel bad for this guy: he truly loves Giselle, wants to marry her, gets dumped when she hooks up with the two-timing Albrecht, and yet he's the one who gets danced to death by the Wilis): Part actually looked as if she were smiling contemptuously when she turned her back on him as he begged for his life.

Hallberg, too, gave a fully thought-out performance. His Albrecht was less of a cad, and more of a young man who is impetuously courting Giselle out of his infatuation for her, despite the fact that he's already engaged to that gorgeous gal in the red gown and darling chapeau. I got the feeling that a conversation with this Albrecht after the fact would have been something like,

"Albrecht, you dolt, did you really think you could get away with being engaged to two women at once? What were you thinking???"

"Um, I don't know.... I wasn't thinking, I guess."

"Well, you blew it, big time."

The above exchange (between me and Albrecht) reveals one of my lifelong ballet activities: making up dialogue and soliloquies for the dancers onstage. I can talk you through all of Swan Lake, Giselle, Beauty, Midsummer... I started doing it as a kid, to tide myself over during boring (to me) stretches of the story ballets (you know, peasant pas de deux, or national dances, or the ever-terrifying pas de trois), and now it's kind of a habit. In case you're really worried, I do keep all this to myself. It was irritating enough on Saturday night when the guy next to me was humming along to the score; I don't think anyone wants to hear my running commentary, though I imagine it would be very calm and stately and quiet, almost whispered, like the golf sportscasters when the guy is lining up his make-or-break 20-foot putt.

PS: The final photo here reminds me of a note the Paris Opera people sent to an American tour presenter, after reviewing some promotional materials in which the photos had been rather aggressively cropped: "Please not to cut the pretty feet."

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