Giselle in 3-D

After a long break the last days of spring dance season rolled around. This week the Mariinsky is in town, and I'm going to see them tomorrow. Today I dragged myself out of bed to watch Giselle in 3-D, a 3-D presentation of a performance filmed last year. It starred Bolshoi guest artist Natalia Osipova as Giselle, Leonid Sarafanov (no longer with the Mariinsky) as Albrecht, and Ekaterina Kondaurova is Myrtha. 

Overall I thought the 3-D experiment was a failure. At the theater I went to for the first 15 minutes the screen was completely blurry and distorted in color, and people complained before it was finally fixed. But the 3-D made the dancers look very artificial and mechanical, kind of like dancing dolls, and other times they looked blurry and out-of-focus. The camera-work was also very poor. It cut dancers off at the feet or in the face. In the Mad Scene, Sarafanov's head was cut off so we couldn't see his expressions as he watched Giselle stumble around the stage. At other times, the relentless close-ups made Osipova's facial expressions look muggy, and we also saw Giselle's mother carefully removing Osipova's hair clips so her hair could tumble loose at the start of the Mad Scene. The camera work was better in Act Two, but still at odd times feet or hands were cut off, and you couldn't really get a good idea of dancers traveling through space, which kind of defeats the purpose of a 3-D presentation, doesn't it?

I saw Osipova's Giselle at the ABT in 2009 and this performance was pretty much how I remembered her live -- her ballon is incredible, she has a wonderful natural lightness and speed, but pure tragedy is not really her forte. Her arms don't have the super-tapered look so prized by balletomanes. Her Giselle is more impressive in the more abstract second act than the character-driven first act. In the first act I felt like despite her formidable technique (she's the only dancer I know who makes everything she does look so damned easy), this was basically someone who had gone to Giselle school and remembered the outlines of what the teacher wrote on the board. It wasn't really memorable for any special details. Maybe most disappointing of all was the weakly sketched Mad Scene. She dutifully hit all the major points without giving the impression of any deep feelings.

In Act Two, her Giselle from the opening initiation (where Osipova basically defied the rules of physics and turned with more speed than I thought humanly possible) really took off as thrilling pure-dance. Other Giselles are maybe more moving, have more emotional impact, but they don't articulate the choreography as thrillingly as Osipova. Her flying entrechats were as marvelous as I remember them being live -- she would hop in the air, hang there for a second, then cross her legs in beats before coming back down. The only thing is that after seeing Diana Vishneva and Alina Cojoaru this year, there's something a bit detached about Osipova's approach to Giselle. She makes the story too happy, if that even makes sense. In Act Two it seems like the coolest thing in the world, to be a spirit and jump the way she does through the woods. When she departed from Albrecht for the last time, she made a beeline off the stage, as if to say, "See ya! Wouldn't want to be ya!" This was definitely a Giselle that focused more on the dance than the romance.

I also think the 3-D process strangely diminishes the impact of Osipova's dancing, because her most remarkable quality (her ability to just devour the stage with her jumps) is not as apparent in 3-D. You get less of a feel for the height, distance, and amplitude of her dancing. The relentless close-ups also focused unfortunately on Osipova's tendency to grimace-smile when she dances.

She wasn't helped by her Albrecht, Leonid Sarafanov, who is that particular type of dancer with flawless line, superb, even flashy, technique, good looks, and yet manages to be dull as dirt. His Albrecht had a vacant face for the entire ballet -- he never grows from the careless playboy of Act One. He's also a weak partner, and there were several partnering issues in Act Two, particularly the famous overhead lifts. I've never seen such an emotionally blank Albrecht. I felt nothing for him. Even in the desperate entrechats of Act Two, Sarafanov never gave me the feeling of being willed to dance by the Wilis -- he just looked like a kid in class demonstrating how to do entrechats. He left the Mariinsky soon after this performance was filmed.

Ekaterina Kondaurova is a tall redhead and she is currently the chief Myrtha at the Mariinsky. She certainly looks the part of the Queen of the Wilis, Unfortunately her bourrees are bumpy and her jump doesn't look particularly powerful. The Mariinsky corps de ballet is famous for their elegance and uniformity, but I saw some surprising mistakes when the Wilis do their famous traveling arabesque hops and when they line up across the stage in a diagonal line and send Hilarion to his death. Legs not at the same height, arms not coordinated. I like how the corps formations are much more complex than the ABT's -- in particular, the Mariinsky Wilis circle around their male victims like a flock of vultures. Very creepy.

The Mariinsky production is very pretty and traditional, although much of the mime of Act One is cut. The peasant pas de deux was also cut in the 3-D film, although it's usually in most Mariinsky performances. The Act Two has Wilis flown across the stage on wires. The ending of the Mariinsky Giselle is rather abrupt and sudden, without much of a farewell between Giselle and Albrecht.


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