Title: Bolshoi: Serenade/Giselle
Author: Judith Mackrell
Date: July 27, 2010
Publisher: The Guardian
Putting Serenade and Giselle together in a single programme makes for a very long evening. But time doesn't register when the dancing is as good as this – and the two ballets make a fascinating pair.
Balanchine choreographed Serenade as an homage to his new life in America – celebrating speed, abstraction and light. But this 1934ballet also carried memories of the classics he'd left behind in Russia. Seeing Serenade and Giselle side by side, we're reminded of how deeply Balanchine quoted from the latter, and how deeply he was haunted by the past.
The Bolshoi only acquired Serenade in 2007, but they have claimed it as their own. There's an added drama, bred in the dancers' bodies, that generates excitement and scale. It's a combination of the dancers' widely braced arms, the height of their jumps, the deep arches of their spines, and the little moments of rubato that catch beautifully in the throat of Balanchine's choreography.
After the transparent emotion of Serenade, it's a slightly queasy jump to the busy, folksy world of Giselle. Yet it's a jump made logical by the magic of the ballerina Natalia Osipova. Her reading of Giselle has an absolute clarity of purpose. Throughout the first act, she never lets us forget her character's frailty, the fact that the very act of dancing might kill her, and in order to do this, she dials down the power and brilliance of her own technique. Osipova's reticence breeds intensity, however, and prepares the way for a second act that has to be one of the most electrifying I've ever seen.
We get an intimation of what's in store in the mad scene, as Osipova's heartbroken Giselle tries ferociously to claw her way out of a world gone horribly wrong. When she reappears as Giselle's ghost, her strength is chilling. Osipova flies around the stage like a wild scrap of ectoplasm, and you can feel the temperature drop by 10 degrees.
Her dancing throughout this act is phenomenal: high, gusting jumps, eerily controlled balances, lifts tugged by invisible currents of air. But while our learned response is to clap, the harrowing quality of Osipova's performance silences us. She is both terrifyingly inhuman and unbearably poignant – especially at the moment where, despite having saved Albrecht from the murderous Wilis, Giselle has to return to her lonely grave.
Osipova's fellow dancers are also excellent, not least Ruslan Skvortsov's Albrecht. He rises magnificently to the challenges of act two, dancing with a virtuosity that's free of vanity and emotional bombast.