From the Kirov, A Bright and Buoyant 'Giselle'

Despite the ballet's darkly dramatic elements, the Kirov's airy dancing created a redemptive world.
Despite the ballet's darkly dramatic elements, the Kirov's airy dancing created a redemptive world. (Kirov Ballet Photos)
By Sarah Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 19, 2006

If the Kirov Ballet's first program at the Kennedy Center Opera House had been overwhelmingly dark (four tense modern works by William Forsythe), its final offering was all about light. Light spirits, a light-drenched decor and weightless dancing combined for an unusually satisfying production of the full-length ballet "Giselle," which the company performed last weekend.

"Giselle," a product of the 19th century's romantic era, catalogues the favorite obsessions of its day: sickness, betrayal, death, remorse, revenge and murder. Many productions play up the drama, and certainly there is ample room to do so. But on Friday night, the Kirov took a more poetic approach, relying less on acting than on airy, crystalline dancing to conjure a world where, in the end, merciful forgiveness could sweep away even the darkest shadows.

Daria Pavlenko, in the title role, embodied this approach--her Giselle was a sunny innocent, with a beaming, open face. You could believe in her back story--that she loved dancing so much she would ignore the growing symptoms of her infirmity in order to join in the village festivities--because Pavlenko never seemed to stop moving. Her body was in constant flow, whether in buoyant moments of full-blown virtuosity or in subtle, alert reaction to Adolph Adam's music (played with special urgency by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, conducted by Mikhail Agrest).

Igor Kolb's appearance was a bit of a muddle as Count Albrecht, Giselle's two-timing boyfriend whose deceit drives her to her death. He had the exquisitely long, slim legs of a thoroughbred, the dark-ringed eyes of a silent-movie star, and a bit of Elvis Presley verticality in his blond pompadour. His acting was pure cornball. Yet you didn't need to believe in him as a lover; this production didn't dwell on earnest expressions of romance. Rather, it was Kolb's fitness as a dance partner to Pavlenko that made him a true hero.

This was particularly true in the second act's graveyard scene, when Pavlenko reappears under a full moon as Giselle's ghost, determined to save Albrecht from his own certain death. Both Kolb and Pavlenko seemed barely earthbound, as if they could be blown over by a stiff gust from the fog machine in the wings. Their final pas de deux was especially moving; Pavlenko expanded upon the lyrical notes she had established in the first act, adding images of yearning and of soaring skyward.

Pavlenko's quality of softness was echoed through the whole cast. The Kirov women share certain traits that underscored the ballet's ethereal atmosphere: long, elastic spines, breadth across the shoulders, and arms that seem to float. True to the romantic ballet style, there were suppleness and quiet in their footwork and in their upper bodies, a skillful contrast to the upright, cut-glass precision evident in works from the classical era, such as the Kirov's "Swan Lake" production a few seasons ago.

Viktoria Tereshkina, as Myrtha, queen of the Wilis--the spirits of jilted virgins, of whom Giselle is the most recent inductee -- ought to serve as a model to Myrthas everywhere. An understated sovereign, she ruled by the fearful exactitude of her dancing, and her realm was the air.

The one off-note occurred when Ekaterina Osmolkina and Vladimir Shklyarov performed the first act's bravura display known as the Peasant Pas de Deux; they missed a lift and her pirouettes gained little stability from his assistance. Inexperience in partnering seemed at fault here, because they sparkled in their solos. He was impressively relaxed in his jumps, she a charming sprite with swift, darting feet.

There were several interesting, unusual details in this production. Typically, Giselle's grave stands alone in the second act, but here a few other headstones were scattered about upstage and more were painted onto the backdrop, which added an extra note of spookiness. Even the ghosts got spooked: At one point, Myrtha threateningly waved a scepterlike branch at Giselle and Albrecht, but as Giselle swept her arms protectively around her beau, the branch snapped in half in Myrtha's hand. Myrtha looked at it quizzically, then stepped aside to let them dance. No point arguing with that kind of magic.

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