Title: A Momentous Debut
Author: Leigh Witchel
Date: June 13, 2009
Natalia Osipova’s debut with American Ballet Theatre Saturday night in “Giselle” not only delivered all her promise as a ballerina but inspired the rest of the company to follow and match her. Osipova, the rising star of the Bolshoi, isn’t an orthodox Giselle. It would be unnatural; she’s too powerful, so she recast the role slightly. A few steps were tweaked within limits – on her first circling entry, she massaged the traditional balloné into a jump sur le cou-de-pied so she could get more hang time. If a change was made, it was usually to emphasize her ballon, but she wasn’t just pushing for athletic feats. She opted not to do an arabesque penchée at her final farewell, going for the pathos of the moment rather than the extension.
Osipova’s a technical powerhouse. Her Giselle was far more than that – it was beautifully coached, especially the acting. All the moments were there; she took the 19th century narrative and laid it out for us with blistering logic. Her idea of Giselle is direct and painful. She was crazy in love with Albrecht, so much so that when he touched her she shook with desire. From first glance, you knew she had laid every hope in her life on him – if it didn’t work out, there would be disaster. Though she wasn’t a wilting Giselle, her heart weakness was shown with clarity so that the mad scene and her death followed from what came before. Osipova didn’t dissipate into nothingness; her mad scene was filled with crazed energy. She embraced her mother, ran to Albrecht and was felled by her heart mid-leap.
Whatever magic she worked on David Hallberg – or he worked on himself – let it remain. He outdid himself from the moment she came onstage and I’ve never seen better from him. He’s always been beyond reproach technically, but the clarity and honesty of his performance pushed him from an excellent dancer to a great Albrecht. Hallberg didn’t play Albrecht as a cad – that would have been unsuited to Osipova’s reading. He was genuinely in love with Giselle; both showed their attraction with a few telling moments where they briefly stopped their dancing among the peasant and just gazed at the other, dumbstruck. He knew the moment the hunting party reentered that trouble was imminent, and that he had a hand in it.
Act I was great. Act II was even better. Osipova started out with a bang – she spun wildly and soared across the stage, but went beyond technique to metaphor. She was a spirit fighting her shackles, yearning for release. For the first time, I also noticed the parallel Hallberg drew between his steps in Act I and Act II. There were extraordinary technical moments – Osipova’s pas de poissons, Hallberg’s stunning entrechat-sixes – but what lingered was the urgency. “Giselle” only works if we all believe in the narrative; throughout the evening both drew you into their passion and dilemma. You hoped and prayed for them. By daylight, the exorcism they went through was so complete that it led to the main dramatic conundrum of the evening – though she saved Albrecht, what was left for him from life?
With those excellent performances, a solid production and the corps’ confidence from the repetition in a week-long run, ABT has never looked more like the major institution it wants to be. Casting was strong down the line. Jared Matthew’s Hilarion was rough-hewn but forthright. Veronika Part has always had the soul for Myrtha; now she has the security. Her regal authority in the opening of the act set the scene for Osipova’s entry. Both of Part’s assistants, Melanie Hamrick and Leann Underwood, were talents in their own right; Underwood’s dreamy rubato lingered after her. The peasant pas was the only slightly uncertain element – Blaine Hoven and Hee Seo didn’t have a comfortable rapport. Hoven looked nervous and the two danced better apart than together.
No matter. The entire company gave everything they had to this “Giselle.” The affectionate kiss Hallberg and Osipova gave one another in the curtain calls was a sign of their satisfaction. Every time we set foot in the theater, we secretly hope for that once in a blue moon performance, the one that’s so glorious that it explains anew why we go. It can’t happen every time, probably not even every hundred times, but what joy when it finally appears. Thanks to the company and all concerned for the pleasure and privilege.