Recent performances by the Moscow Ballet in Baltimore and the Warsaw Ballet at Montgomery College suggest that the current vogue for using taped rather than live music by ballet companies should stop before it becomes the norm. Touring with an orchestra might be expensive and ticket prices might suffer as a result, but taped music is distant and cold at the best of times and the Warsaw Ballet's recording (by its own orchestra and conductor) was so painfully, lugubriously, almost undanceably slow the dancers were given a nearly insurmountable handicap.
It seems unfair to judge the Warsaw Ballet -- 200 years old with an honorable tradition and interesting repertory consisting of native, Soviet and Western works -- on the basis of one ballet ("Giselle") in less than ideal conditions. The Montgomery College Performing Arts Center, handsomely intimate in design, is a lovely house for dance, but the stage is tiny, and it was obvious Sunday night that the dancers had to make considerable adjustments. There simply wasn't enough room for them to move freely, and jumps in particular suffered.
Despite all this, it was clear that the corps is well schooled, with beautifully flexible backs and arms. They were coldly implacable Wilis, their icy perfection becoming a metaphor for the justness of their vengeance. Myrtha, danced by Elwira Piorun, made her entrance with bourre'es whose individual steps were so nearly imperceptible she seemed to glide across a frozen pond.
Unfortunately, the two leading dancers (Anna Bialecka as Giselle and Waldemar Wolk-Karaczewski as Albrecht), whose human warmth and love should be in clear contrast to the coldness of the ghost-maidens, were barely tepid. They never connected emotionally -- he in particular was unpleasantly self-satisfied -- and it was difficult to care about them as characters. Bialecka's dancing in the second act was strong and light and beautifully phrased, but in the first act she seemed to be dancing someone else's idea of Giselle. She seems the fiery type -- at one point she almost let a spark into her dancing, but quickly snuffed it out -- and she could use this to make her peasant girl more likable.
Only Hilarion, supposedly the villain, was made of flesh and blood. Lukasz Gruziel alone seemed able to imagine he was dancing at an opera house, and his grand, generous performance was truly of star caliber.
Warsaw Ballet must have other dancers like this, and other dances. How many other companies have a repertory of Ashton, Balanchine and Bejart, along with the usual 19th century warhorses? It would be nice to see them again in that repertory, especially if they bring their conductor with them.