Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
It seemed to happen in a split second, one of those magical transformations that turns a theater from an entertainment site into a holy place, a shrine.
Until Gelsey Kirkland's reentry in the second act of "Giselle" as a ghost possessed, Thursday's performance of the 19th-century staple by American Ballet Theater had seemed disturbingly inconsistent. Kirkland's frail heroine and Mikhail Baryshnikov's ardent Count Albrecht were finely etched but never quite transcendent portrayals, and there were lots of ups and downs elsewhere in the company and in the orchestra pit.
Then on came Kirkland with that first flurry of blindingly swift, hopped turns in arabesque, sumarizing all the pathos of Giselle's untimely end. One moment you were sitting there, minding your own business as it were, and the next thing you knew your heart felt as if it was about to burst from your rib cage.
From then on Kirkland, Baryshnikov and then entire electrified company revealed to us once again what "Giselle" is all about, indeed, what ballet dancing is all about.
This was the ABT that engraves legends in the history books, and the audience knew it. When the curtain finally fell on Baryshnikov's bent, bereaved figure, it detonated the kind of ovation that is music to a ballet company's ears.
It was a triumph that had nothing to do with virtuosity. The things that Kirkland and Baryshnikov did with their bodies - Kirkland's uncanny ethereality, the leaps, turns and beats from Baryshnikov that sent gasps through the house - were dependent on technique, to be sure. But the technique was so indissolubly wedded to characterization and dramatic expression that not once did one's absorption slip from the plight of Giselle and Albrecht to the physical facility of the dancers.
The high point of the first act was a particularly agitated mad scene. Kirkland's berserk meanderings setting off a chain of wrackingly horrified and guilty reactions in Baryshnikov's Albrecht. The Peasant Pas de Deux seemed as dramatically irrelevant as ever, but was handsomely executed by Kirk Peterson and Hilda Morales. Jolinda Menendez has gained much in assurance as Myrta, but she's still a long way from the aloof majesty the role requires.Nanette Glushak and Janet Shibata were splendid as her companions