Giselle – Bolshoi Ballet – Zakharova, Polunin, Shipulina – October 11th 2015 (In Cinema)

This was a strongly danced and acted Giselle, with two principals at the height of their powers.

Svetlana Zakharova‘s Giselle was convincingly enamoured of her Albrecht, and he of her too. He (Sergei Polunin)’s looks of tenderness and solicitude looked genuine and in close up, touching. His evident joy at seeing Giselle and finding his feelings still reciprocated was well done: smiles, longing looks, this was real chemistry from the pair. At one point Albrecht asks, with a glance “are you ok?” after Giselle’s little heart twinge. She nodded. He smiled. In close up this was lovely to see. In fact, knowing what was to come, I got a bit emotional at these parts.

Technically Zakharova showed us why she is one of the best in the world. Yes, she fell in Act II, and it looked bad, but somehow she covered and recovered it so well that it was momentary, almost as if Giselle the supernatural being had become briefly sapped of power.

Supernatural is a word one might use to describe Zakharova’s abilities. There was that same supreme lightness of the upper body I had seen in Milan from her Aurora, but this time – freed of Ratmansky’s petit allegro vocabulary, and relishing once more in the grander gestures and strident lines of a more modern style, her footwork was razor-sharp, pointes pricking the stage, chaine turns more Zakharova than Giselle. This was “look at what I can do” rather than, “see me dance, my Prince!”

And yet there was still in Act I, a keen dramatic intelligence illustrating the character, the ballet equivalent of the 19th Century operatic “mad scene” going off very well (where I noted, oddly, that Zakharova has lovely hair). The longer I watched her, the more I was convinced by her acting. A cock of her head changed her entire characterisation. The closeups are unforgiving in cinema, especially in dance. Giselle’s despair was believable.

Zakharova/Giselle (photo: Elena Fetisova)

Zakharova/Giselle (photo: Elena Fetisova)

Act II calls for that technical prowess Zakharova has in spades. After her fall she seemed to be a little troubled by her arabesques, but even so, her training held out.  Assisted by her Prince, the pas de deux were wonderfully given, both never merely reiterating steps, but investing themselves of them. Travelling lifts and poses came off beautifully, transition from arabesque to turns and developés were classy. Her appearance on bourée in Act II was as light as a whisper. Magical. Friends already are saying how she is too regal for Giselle, a mere peasant girl. True, but how that regal nature carries her and convinces, in Act II.

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Giselle and Albrecht hail the night (photographer unknown)

This was my first viewing of Polunin in a true classical setting. (I am aware that “Take Me To Church” does not count.) I was of course, impressed. His Albrecht of Act I was cheeky, a bit of a gadabout. He had an awesome cape. (In Act II he has a beautiful glittering shirt.) Polunin had a tendency to clench his jaw in an odd way, but it seemed to serve multiple purposes: from “right then!” (resolve) right through to “I’m awesome.” and in Act II, after his flurry of  entrechats – which drew applause then more applause again from the audience, that same jaw again, but in a “screw you!” type of way, directed at the Wilis.

Technically Polunin describes great definition in his jumps and lands them in perfect position (95% of the time).  He is moreover, and importantly, a good actor. The pose in Act II where he is exhausted and Giselle drags his hand up was splendid: art even though still. Nobility flows through him. The ending is of course Albrecht alone in the face of the rising sun, and Polunin did a great job of showing us the grief etched on his face in the new dawn. It is easy to see why a certain cadre of dance watchers (and non-dance lovers) like Polunin. He showed in Act II a type of magnetism that held the stage and the gaze fixed and eager. He broods well, rather like a Brando or Valentino. These qualities work well for ballet, where most of the princes are doomed, or have good reason for brooding.

Act II itself features the famous Petipa-ean geometrics of the Wilis. These were splendid to see: precision en masse. The Russian schooling of all the ladies concerned (despite its rumoured trials and hardships) giving us a great picture of uncommonly good uniformity of attack and pose. Their fantastic synchronicity was only done a disservice by a very over-eager audience. True, the corps arabesque en voyages actually almost effected the illusion of gliding, but perhaps one could save applause for the end? I think they were even more vocal than normal due to the cameras. Gentlemen, please: a little more restraint?  спасибо. So too, fellow cinema-goers, can we save discussion for the end please? Thank you.

The Wilis (file photograph)

The Wilis (file photograph)

Myrtha (Ekaterina Shipulina) was not well served by an unflattering close-up showing her sort of sucking up the sweat from her lips, but she certainly showed us a Myrtha imperious and regal rather than the bizzare description of her from the Bolshoi screen as…”impassible”(?). In an interview backstage, she and interviewer Katerina Novikova likened the text written for her character to those written for a man, and it is easy to see why. Brises, cabrioles, difficult tours and jumps, she made short work of all. (Her magnificent cheekbones only add to the characterisation.) Let me also mention Katerina Novikova, presenting for the cinema audience and interviewing Bolshoi members. Speaking three languages to camera and translating simultaneously is no mean feat. She is a national treasure.

Denis Savin as the woodsman Hans over-acted a bit too much in Act II (he was perhaps in auditorium rather than cinema mode?) but it wasn’t so bad. I would rather have over than under.

Lead wili number one (Angelina Karpova) was excellent, but wili two (the always-exquisite Ana Turazashvili) had perhaps the better port de bras? Together, both were wonderful to watch.

Peasant girl and boy grand-ish pas (Daria KhokhlovaIgor Tsvirko) Ms Khokhlova had some nerves early on it seemed, but seemed then to relax into the role. A good variation number two from Tsvirko (nice jumps) and a fantastic final variation from a more relaxed Khokhlova warmed them to me. The Orchestra of Bolshoi Ballet did an excellent job under Pavel Klinichev . Articulate, expressive, sure this is ballet music, and Adam isn’t a music titan, but no matter: the score was given a good account. Ilya Sokolov’s plaintive viola solo in Act II was particularly memorable.

There were core performances of great distinction. The technical prowess of the company is evident for all to see. Why then, the poor props? the 1950s sets? Why the horrible twinkling grave-lights? The absurd boing-ing tree which Giselle rides? Why too, the horrible barrel-straddling antics? How I longed for the fairytale of the Royal Ballet’s version: credible in all senses, even though it shows us the impossible. Nevertheless, dance carried the day, despite the setting.

Twitter Roundup:

(This was cute in French, but very funny to hear in English.)

Comment on cinematography:

I liked the Bolshoi approach: well found close ups on cue, and only one time when I thought ‘zoom out!’. They did a great job, framing was excellent and always sensitive to the dancing.

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