Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
A standing ovation greeted the London Festival Ballet cast at the conclusion of the company's first performance of "Giselle" at the Kennedy Center Wednesday, and it is easy to understand why.
This reliable romantic warhorse is by far the most popular material the LFB is offering in its current visit, is an unfamiliar but superb production by Mary Skeaping. Rudolf Nureyev appears as Albrecht, a role he has danced for nearly 20 years, and one very close to his heart.
As Giselle Wednesday, Eva Evdokimova was seen in a part which particularly suits her, and over which she was in complete command. The role of Myrtha, Queen of the Willis, fell to Manola Asensio, and it gave this exceptionally fine dancer the chance to show just how formidable an artist she can be.
All in all, the company was seen at its best, in every respect, in a "Giselle" that can easily take a place beside the finest in the world.
Skeaping, who once danced with Pavlova, directed the Royal Swedish Ballet for nearly a decade, and is much respected as an itinerant scholar-producer, mounted this "Giselle" (her fourth) for LFB in 1971. She has attempted to come closer, in both spirit and substance, to the original paris production of 1841 and its early French and Russian revisions than most other modern stagings.
Like Alicia Alonso, whose Cuban Ballet version was so recently here, Skeaping restores much of Adolphe Adam's score that is ordinarily trimmed, and also adds some choreography of her own in the Perrot-Coralli-Petipa vein. The Peasant pas de Deuz is somewhat shortened, but the wine harvest sequence in Act I is greatly expanded and includes a new pas de deux for the principals.
Giselle also acquires new solos in both acts. There are other emendations, among them a restored "Fugue" scene with the Wilis menacing the lovers.
One novelty belonged to Nureyev - the thrilling series of entrechats he executes in Act II as the Willis press their vengeance upon him, a passage that shocked England when he introduced it there in 1962 with Margot Fonteyn (their Covent Garden debut), but which has since become part of the ballet's history. It was the peak of his gripping performance Wednesday, playing an Alberecht who is transfigured by an ennobling remorse.
Evdokimova's pliant delicacy and her strong technique stood her in excellent stead as Gieselle, and her mad scene was aptly harrowing. All the same, there's a passivity about her stage pressence that kept her from the ultimate pathos of the role. It was left to Asensio's austere Myrtha, in a performance that reminded one strongly of Martine van Hamel, to furnish a true tragic dimension for the ballet. The corps de ballet was remarkably good in both acts, and even such lesser roles as Hilarion, Bathilde and Berthe took an extra distinction.
The sensitively detailed sets and costumes by David Walker, in a carefully harmonized color scheme of woodsy tones, also contribute much to the production's success.