Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
When American Ballet Theater programmed two performances of "Giselle" back-to-back with conspicuously opposite leading ladies, it was inviting an inevitable comparison.
Carla Fracci, who danced the part opening night, is a born Giselle. Cynthia Gregory, Wednesday night's heroine, has to work at it. Wispy, romantic melancholy is not her natural bent, though technically speaking, she can dance rings around Fracci. By now, too, she makes an altogether conscientious and admirable stab at the characterization, but it has a manufactured look - we can never quite forget that it's a putup job.
It's not a matter of Gregory's height, or build. Fracci is no pygmy. It's a question of temperament, phrasing and dynamics. She has difficulty projecting Giselle's frailty. It's not just that she looks robust, but that she moves like a sportwoman, with innate vim. In the delicately glancing lifts of the second act, for instance, the requisite lightness eludes her. And though she manages to soften the line of her arms and to pace herself gravely, her linking movements and her bravura touches give her away. Even as a ghost she seems ready for Wimbledon.
It's not fair, of course, to reproach Gregory for not being Fracci. She brings some fine qualities of her own to the role, not the least of which are her freshness and impeccable footwork. Moreover, she's well aware of the hindrances, and all her dramatic strivings are in the right direction.
At any rate, as a total performance Wednesday night's "Giselle" was no less and possibly more affecting than Tuesday's. Part of the reason was Gregory's interpretive progress but the decisive factor was Charles Ward's unexpectedly impressive Albrecht. Ward is relatively new to the role, yet he brought to it a surety, refinement and earnestness that sustained the tragic aura of the whole ballet.
Both his love for Giselle and his guilty grief over her death were remarkably convincing. He seems to have picked up a few points from Mikhail Baryshnikov's portrayal - the lagging dejection of his second act entrance, for example, and the way he makes even his flashiest steps, like the flying brises , more an exhibition of despair than a circus trick. Whatever his sources, he's found a key to maturity and given to a deft turn.
Among other elements contributing to the evenings's achievement were the vivacious pas de deux by Hilda Morales and John Prinz; the improved work of the corps de ballet; and a much neater, more affectionate orchestral performance, led by Patrick Flynn.