- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

There was a mixture of stellar dancing and puzzling dead spots in the Kirov Ballet’s performances of “Giselle,” which over the weekend concluded the company’s yearly visit to the Kennedy Center.

The Kirov’s foremost virtue is the extraordinary finesse and power of its corps de ballet — displayed in the first act’s lighthearted dancing and even more critically in the extended passages for the female corps in the second act. The dancers’ graceful, tendril-like arms, total control in lengthy balances and picture-perfect formations come together as if by magic.

Some companies achieve precision with militaristic snap and their avenging Wilis are second cousins to Harpies, but the Kirov’s corps manages to be formidable and softly feminine at the same time.

Myrtha, the Wilis’ imperious leader, was given a strong, elegant staging at the two performances I saw Friday and Saturday evenings (there were also matinees Saturday and yesterday).

But “Giselle” is basically the story of a young innocent lass betrayed by Count Albrecht, who enters her life masquerading as a peasant. When she learns of his deception and engagement to a high-born woman, she goes mad. The second act finds her in the fantasy world of the Wilis, who either died before their wedding day or of a broken heart — take your pick.

Giselle is one of the simplest, tenderest of heroines, and her story is one of the most touching in all of ballet. It makes strong technical demands and both Daria Pavlenko, who played the title role on Friday, and Olesya Novikova on Saturday were well equal to its challenges.

But the role requires much more — the ability to project the innocence of a young girl, go through an extended mad scene, and be transformed into a shade, more spirit than flesh. It’s one of the most iconic roles in all ballet, a role that calls for — and sometimes elicits — greatness.

The Kirov’s performances were curiously unmoving, admirable though much of the dancing was. Neither Giselle seemed invested in the role. Both did creditable mad scenes, playing up youthful innocence, bringing pathos to the scene through simplicity. But neither ballerina sketched in a full-formed, entrancing heroine.

In the second act, all light and shade and nuance, where the role calls for an ethereal lightness and for phrasing that breathes and touches the heart, there was too much emphasis on sheer physical virtuosity — swift multiple turns, sharp high leaps. Giselle’s virtuosity is more subtle; it calls for soft light jumps that look effortless, for arms that seem to float on air, not pose with bent wrists in a copy of Romantic-era lithographs: a lifeless, frozen-in-time quality that makes it a picture and not a living, breathing dance.

On Friday night, Igor Kolb as Albrecht was accomplished, but neither he nor Leonid Sarafanov on Saturday made much of the role dramatically or rose to great heights in dancing. Mr. Kolb was the stronger in the all-important requirement to partner Giselle so that she looks like a wraith.

Mr. Sarafanov’s Albrecht was more intriguing with his youthful blond looks — a mere stripling of an Albrecht. We might have seen him became transformed from this callow youth by the impact of the tragedy, but that possibility went unexplored. Neither couple generated any chemistry as lovers.

A bright spot on both programs was the electrifying dancing of Vladimir Shklyarov in the Peasant Pas de Deux of the first act. He looks very young and gives promise of a brilliant future. Ekaterina Osmolkina was his agreeable partner.


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