If the Bolshoi Ballet's "Giselle" looked ready for the glue factory Friday night, the two subsequent performances at Wolf Trap this past weekend told quite a different story. They also proved that Yuri Grigorovich's stolid staging of the great 19th-century ballet can be enlivened by individual artistry.
Saturday night, Nina Ananiashvili and Aleksei Fadeyechev overcame the dramatic roadblocks scattered through this production by a combination of innocent bravura and passionate acting. The love of the peasant girl Giselle and the thoughtlessly philandering Duke Albrecht was evident from the moment Ananiashvili bounded out of her cottage, and the tragedy of the ballet, in this interpretation, was as much one of missed opportunity as one of betrayal.
In the second act the emphasis was on the dancing, with the passion implied through the sweep and height and yearning of the leaps. Their performance made one remember that "Giselle" was a ballet for jumpers before it became an icon of romanticism, and one was constantly reminded of the many phrases that combine loving and leaping.
Ananiashvili's jumps are imposing for not only their height but also their variety. She can snap, soar or float as the occasion demands. Fadeyechev has the power, but not the style, of an athlete. He's a noble, lyric dancer in the best Soviet tradition, and his dancing is substantial without seeming heavy, soft without being weak, and instinctively musical. He has the rare ability to connect his steps into one continuous, breathless arc of movement, as exhibited by the flashing, pleading series of brise's when Albrecht danced for his life among the Wilis.
The Wilis' Queen Saturday night was Nina Speranskaya, the lightest of the Bolshoi women on view this week. She and her able lieutenants (Elvira Drozdova and Olga Suvorova at all three performances), along with Ananiashvili, exemplify what's best about current Bolshoi female style, a style both vigorous and feminine. Their line is stretched without being attenuated, their dancing plush and ample, their arms expressive and individual.
There are several pre-glasnost elements in this production that may be due for a Newthink. Even the most dissolute of Silesian nobility wouldn't have gone a-hunting in lilac and rhinestones. When the hunting party enters (preceded by a line of ludicrously dipping and swaying spear carriers) it looks as though it's come to loot the village or, at the very least, impose new taxes rather than sample the first wine of the harvest. (And what self-respecting peasant woman would have a matching set of stoneware tumblers?)
Yuri Vetrov's Hans (the loathsome, lovelorn gamekeeper) is obviously an ineffectual Party hack, the fellow responsible for the slow production and shipment of partridge eggs. His alternate on Saturday night, Gedeminas Taranda, was more competent and thus more self-satisfied, sure of his superiority and probably used to taking bribes.
Sunday night, the company fielded a third set of principals. Lyudmila Semenyaka, who danced Giselle, is the Bolshoi's senior ballerina now, while her partner, Yuri Posokhov, is one of the most junior of the leading men. Stylistically they're twins, both being long-limbed, elegant dancers. As partners, however, they're at odds. Semenyaka, long a great Giselle, danced what was obviously an interpretation she'd settled on long ago, while Posokhov seemed to find new things in the ballet as he went along.
Semenyaka's dancing was as luminous as ever. A turner, not a jumper, she emphasized the light, quick footwork in the role. Posokhov -- whose step is positively springy -- has a noble line and there's a world of promise in his dancing. If he is the Bolshoi man of the future, the company will look very different a decade from now.
But it's as difficult to predict what the Bolshoi of the future will be as it is to assess accurately what it is today, based on one week and two ballets. The Bolshoi has so many dancers, and uses them so peculiarly, it's hard to take its measure. There's no other major company so uneven. It's not just a question of performers' having an off night; the whole company undergoes a personality change from one night to the next. One night the performance can be perfunctory or simply weird; the next, it's glorious. The question "What is the Bolshoi like?" is perhaps best answered, "Which night did you go?"