Unfortunately videos of this exquisite dancer are hard to find, even on youtube. So imagine my excitement when I found this (see after the jump):
It's 20 minutes of excerpts from Altynai Asylmuratova's Giselle. I wish it included more, but I'm grateful for what I have. I never got to see Asylmuratova live -- by the time I was even vaguely interested in ballet, she had retired. She's not that well-represented on video either -- there's a La Bayadere, Le Corsaire, Les Sylphides, and a VHS of Sleeping Beauty that has long been out of print. She's also featured in a documentary called Backstage at the Kirov. She's featured in some Kirov compilations, including one where she dances the Esmeralda pas de six with so much beauty it's hard to even watch anyone else dance this piece. She's exquisite in all her videos, but except for La Bayadere and the Esmeralda clip, I think her greatest strength as a dancer -- her sense of drama -- is not really captured in the extant videos. Her video of La Bayadere is what got me really hooked onto ballet. Now when I watch the video the strength of her characterization as Nikya still astounds me. In the Shades pas de deux, notice how she lifts her arms with such force and triumph, as if to remind Solor that even in an opium dream, he is not forgiven.
Anyway, back to the Giselle clip. Asylmuratova was never known as a strong technician, and you can see this in the clip -- she seems to tire at the end of her Act Two variation. Her upper body, especially her incredibly supple back, was her glory, but her lower body lacks terre a terre strength. Her entrechats are a bit sketchy. Her arabesque is uneven -- not always lifted to the same height, and her effort to raise her leg in arabesque is sometimes apparent. But the effortless, girlish charm of Act One, and the rather unique take on Act Two are wonderful. Asylmuratova, unlike many Russian ballerinas, wasn't blessed with one of those big, floating, airy jumps. She can get in the air, and has decent elevation, but not much ballon. Sometimes her jumps tend to land with a hard thud. Her arms also don't have that feather light look of so many Giselles. She has her own methods of appearing ethereal -- in the series of lifts, she lifts her arms higher and higher, as if being pulled towards the heavens. Asylmuratova works around her rather hard jump and forceful attack -- it gives her Giselle a sternness that I very much like in my Act Two Giselles. Mariinsky ballerina Diana Vishneva today does a very similar interpretation -- the stern wraith no longer reachable by anyone, driven only by a mysterious inner force to save the man who betrayed her.
There are many Giselles who turn Act Two into a rather sappy story of forgiveness. But Asylmuratova, with her intense face, and her forceful, un-mannered style of dancing, shows that love =/= forgiveness. I especially love the way she ends the ballet. Once Albrecht has been saved, Asylmuratova lifts his arm, but avoids physical contact. Albrecht carries her back to the grave and she really appears lifeless, no longer of this earth. As she bourrees farther and farther away from Albrecht, she lifts her arms a little each time, but it's not clear whether she's reaching out to Albrecht or whether she is already in another world. She has become distant and unreachable.
The staying power of Giselle is the idea that love can be real, yet impossible. In the second act, Giselles will sometimes descend into a series of litographic poses, and one will forget that this can be a blood-curdling ghost story about death, revenge, and redemption. Although I wish a complete Giselle with Asylmuratova existed, I'm excited to see this extensive clip that gives a hint of how special she undoubtedly was in the role.