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Flash Review, 6-16: Adios, Julio
At ABT, an Albrecht's Last Dances

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2006 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- When the peasant maiden Giselle dies at the end of Act I in American Ballet Theatre's version of the perennial classic -- which opened for a week's run on Monday -- it's from a congenital heart condition, aggravated by the stress of unfulfilled love for Count Albrecht, who captures her heart, disguised as a peasant, Loys. Her secret admirer Hilarion (in Monday's cast, Gennadi Saveliev), the village huntsman uncovers Albrecht's deception, and Giselle's excitement at being chosen Queen of the Wine Festival compounded by the devastation of learning that her love can't be consummated causes her to succumb to her fragility. This scenario is more dramatically convincing than older versions of the Jules Perrot/Jean Coralli classic (book by Vernoy de Saint-Georges, Theophile Gautier, and Coralli), where Giselle seems to go suddenly, strangely mad and die of a "broken heart."

Artistic director Kevin McKenzie strives to reanimate the classics by heightening their dramatic plausibility. He also casts each ballet with three sets of principals, insuring depth of quality. The only shortcoming of the opening night cast of "Giselle" -- and it was a minor lapse at that -- was in the title role. Xiomara Reyes is the perfect size to be partnered by Julio Bocca -- who is dancing his swan song with ABT this season -- and she's capable of the technical demands of the strenuous part. But as an actress, she really hasn't the gravitas for the role.

When in Act I Giselle realizes Albrecht is lost, she stands motionless for a long time, absorbing the shock. Such a moment, swathed in Adolphe Adam's dramatic music, should embody all the mental anguish she's feeling, but Reyes doesn't have the force of presence to keep the moment from looking "directed" rather than emotionally inevitable. In Act II, her entreaty to Myrta, Queen of the Wilis (Gillian Murphy), to spare Albrecht from his sentence of dancing himself to death for invading their sanctuary is not altogether convincing.

Murphy, however, as Myrta gives her customary technically flawless rendition, but she is also dramatically riveting as a fairy not to be trifled with, guarding her flock of Wilis -- young women who died before losing their virginity. Her presence is so commanding that when she's onstage, she rules the scene, along with Stella Abrera and Veronika Part as Moyna and Zulma, her two adjutants.

Murphy's kinetic attack has post-modern release quality, as she virtually dives into a series of rocking side to side extensions; yet she remains classically precise. And she shows sophisticated musical phrasing doing a series of piqué turns that accelerate to outpace the tempo of the music at their peak, and then subside into a breathtakingly controlled multiple pirouette and serene finish.

As a "danseur noble," Bocca eschews bravura in favor of technical precision, finesse, and truthful dance acting. As Albrecht, he is buoyantly youthful and passionate, yet regal. His masterful partnering gives Giselle the requisite weightlessness of a spirit, and his variations shimmer with refined grace and expressive power. He is leaving ABT at the top of his game.

The production lived up to the high standards the troupe brings to the Metropolitan Opera House. (Would that they had a home of their own!) Gianni Quaranta's lush but unobtrusive foliage became a natural halo-like frame around the dancing, lighted with her customary magic by Jennifer Tipton, who made costume designer Anna Anni's pristine white tutus luminescent, while keeping the surrounding atmosphere mysteriously obscure.

Conductor David LaMarche set a brisk pace for the Act I peasant dances, pushing the petite allegro of the stellar corps to its limits and giving the folksy tombé pas de bourrée steps an exciting brio. He was also enormously sensitive to the phrasing and tempos of Reyes in Giselle's Act II variations, ebbing and flowing with her every breath, carrying the first-rate orchestra with him. And the female corps de ballet deserves special praise in Act II for its faultless unison, arrow-straight lines, and perfectly symmetric formations.

Julio Bocca and this cast dance "Giselle" again tonight at the Metropolitan Opera House.


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