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Flash Review 2, 7-24: Another Giselle Holds Her Own
And Guillem's Choreography Offers Gifts for Purists and Revisionists Alike

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

The choreographer of La Scala Ballet's new "Giselle," Sylvie Guillem, was given a rest for Saturday's matinee, allowing principal dancer Sabrina Brazzo to step into the title role and some metaphorically huge pointe shoes. She was paired with Mick Zeni, who relieved Massimo Murru as Albrecht. Both brought their own wonderful talents to the performance at the State Theater in this new, semi-radical interpretation of the classic warhorse.

As proven in Wednesday's performance of "Amarcord," Brazzo is an eloquent ballerina, physically and emotionally. Her long developpes in arabesque end in a sort of grace note, lilting upwards in a generous interpretation of phrasing that still makes musical sense. She is able to render the most subtle port de bras with clarity as when she switches arms mid-phrase to accompany a developpe in second. She possesses a psychological maturity that is interesting to watch, and holds her own when compared to the justifiably revered Guillem. The biggest handicap for Zeni, a soloist with La Scala, is that he appears to be just plain young. Nonetheless, he is technically accomplished, particularly in petite allegro sections of entrechats six, and in the exhausting multiple entrechats in the finale, which he began with his arms in a quiet fifth position en bas, gradually resorting to bouncing his arms in second. The bonus of Zeniās youthfulness was felt by the audience in an irrepressible exhilaration of dancing at that level. It was infectious.

The first half of "Giselle" felt like "ballet verite," with plain costuming and make-up and a clever wall set piece (by Paul Brown, who also designed the costumes) that executed more pirouettes than the dancers in the first ten minutes. The engaging set had elements seemingly plucked from the surrealism of Magritte; a fence lining the upstage wall morphed from parallel lines to organic curlicues. The extensive expository gesturing overwhelmed the small bits of dancing, though the harvest scene contained some rowdy folk sequences.

The second act began with a field of rocks which levitated to become threatening clouds, to great effect. This more traditional act was much dancier, in no small part due to the storyline. (I refer you to Alicia Mosier's flash of "Giselle," with Guillem in the title role, for an excellent overview of the production and story.) The Wilis were exquisitely garbed in unique bridal dresses, which must have accounted for the 45-minute intermission. (It can't be easy going from peasant to bride in under a half hour.) Each gown was tailored beautifully, the skirts composed of many layers of soft tulle, which flared into a perfect semi-circle in turns. (Also noteworthy were costumes worn by the Duke's entourage; Bathilde sported a chic red pantsuit topped with a leather sarong.)

Guillem's choreography showed a profound musical sensitivity and an obvious affection for ballet. Her phrasing reminded me of a warm conversation between good friends, offering subtleties and insights on character through language -- in this case, ballet. She effectively employed diagonals, either within one solo phrase or between partners, producing energetic dynamics. Perhaps the one foible of her choreography is that, conceived as they are by a highly accomplished and gifted dancer, the steps may be too ambitious for certain other dancers. The second act contained many stunning geometric arrangements for the Wilis, led by the excellent Beatrice Carbone.

Before the curtain and at the lengthy intermission, I'd heard hungry murmurings of dissent from audience members who feared any tampering with a beloved classic. However, there was something solid for purists and revisionists alike in Guillem's "Giselle."


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