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Flash Review 1, 7-24: Technique Serving Art
Yet Another Schooling from the Bolshoi

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2000 Susan Yung

Maria Alexandrova and the Bolshoi corps in "Giselle." Photo courtesy Lincoln Center Festival.

The Bolshoi Ballet showed the depth of its ranks in its second cast of "Giselle" yesterday at the State Theater, with rising star Svetlana Lunkina in the lead role and Nikolai Tsiskaridze as Albrecht. As Tsiskaridze took to the air, beat his legs, landed on a bent leg, and sent the free leg into a battement up to his nose while arching nearly into a backbend, some concepts came to mind as my jaw dropped to my chest in recognition of the freakish convergence of factors I had witnessed: genetic selection from a huge pool, history, the recognition of a national treasure, and training.

"Giselle" is, of course, not the ballet to see if pyrotechnics are your fancy, and it is a bit irresponsible to lead with their mention. The title role is an elegant, complex one requiring infinitely nuanced gesture and strong acting, from coltish maiden to sorrowful spirit. Lunkina, a young star who earned the role of Giselle in her debut year (1997) in Bolshoi Theatre director Vladimir Vasiliev's new production, recovered from an injury earlier this week to dance a sublime, strong Giselle with no hint of impediment. She finessed the ungainly sections (ballet boot camp, demonstrating solid basics and strong muscle and skeletal structure) such as the requisite stage traverse while hopping on one toe and hummingbird-quick or cat's paw-soft footwork, but the most memorable phrases showcase her disproportionately long limbs unreeling -- in exquisite arm and hand motions and infinite developpes in second, ending with a perfectly pointed foot. With the confidence that age can bring, I anticipate a great deal more command of the stage from Lunkina. She's just warming up.

Returning to Tsiskaridze: There is actually a limited amount of dancing done by the men, although both he and Hilarion, the gatekeeper (danced Sunday by Ruslan Pronin) are sentenced to dance to death by the Wilis, the spirits of maidens who died before their wedding day (evidently bitter, but who can blame them?). Tsiskaridze possesses a narrow lower body; his slender legs serve to emphasize his shapely feet. In one scene, he enters wearing a cloak, and simply walking, tendus his foot past the parting fabric. In another, he executes a phenomenally quick enchainment with multiple beats; these and similar details display a rare refinement.

Maria Alexandrova danced the role of Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, a challenging part that taps on male bravura to underscore her great powers -- dramatically clapping her feet together in beats -- as well as silken bourrees. Alexandrova's lyrical sense of musicality truly drew out the life in one passage. Pronin, in the second guy part, danced a characterization that required less strict classicism and more of his amiable acting ability.

The gorgeous costumes were designed by Hubert Givenchy (with Philippe Venet). The palette of the corps' costumes in the first act was striking: unpredictable lavender tights on the men, ravishingly deep-toned velvets on the royalty, and bold primaries for the FOGs (friends of Giselle). And the classic, white, ankle-length tutu worn by the women in the second act is practically archetypal, an indelible image when the corps formed a colonnade or diagonal.

The Russians have demonstrated recently why they still claim ballet as their own art form. The aggressively conservative line the Bolshoi uses is pure classicism at its best, with a geometric beauty of form and function, though they are not above throwing a curveball and contorting that line to showcase an individual dancer's gifts. They dance with a purity of technique that is the eloquent and obedient servant to artistic motive.

For a review of the first cast of "Giselle" see Flash Review, 7-19: Strasvichay! For additional coverage of the Bolshoi, see Flash Review 1, 7-20: Bravo Bolshoi! and Flash Interview, 7-21: Vasiliev! For more on the Bolshoi, visit the company's web site.

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