Gisellex3: Hello David! Bravo Marcelo! Brava Stella and Sarah!

Hallberg and Murphy, photo @ Kent G. Becker

I saw three (!!!) Giselles in ABT's spring season. And in a way, each Giselle was a celebration -- the first celebrated the return of a beloved dancer whom many feared was lost to injury forever. The second performance celebrated the 20th anniversary of a company treasure. The third performance celebrated a long-time soloist's chance to shine in the spotlight.

Albrecht was the last role I saw David Hallberg dance nearly three years ago. Then came the devastating injury. Every year balletomanes hoped to see him again and he didn't appear. He disappeared from social media, so much so that when he finally posted on Instagram again the caption read "emerging from the shadows." Turns out he has spent the last year in Australia for intense physical therapy. The May 27 performance of Giselle at the ABT was therefore the kind of event where you see as many dancers in the audience as balletomanes. I saw Sara Mearns, Tiler Peck, Joaquin de Luz, Allegra Kent, and a bunch of other former and current dancers all in the audience, cheering on this magnificent dancer.

So ... how was he? Well, he's very much the same dancer. His jumps are more careful and his solos perhaps not as penny-whistle clean as they might have been pre-injury. He was also a bit ginger with the overhead lifts in the Act 2 pas de deux. But the beautiful feet, the classical line, the austere stage manner, the soaring jump, were all there. In Act Two I could hear a collective gasp when he walked upstage to do his 24 entrechat sixes. The audience started applauding almost immediately. His characterization was also the same as I remembered it -- sort of an aristocratic icicle, whose aloofness is part of the charm. Some might prefer a more emotive Albrecht but Hallberg's characterization works for him. The company suffered in his absence. Welcome back!

The rest of the performance was not on Hallberg's level. Gillian Murphy was making her New York debut as Giselle and Stella Abrera was Myrtha. Gillian's Giselle was professional, well-danced, but she was essentially miscast -- she's not really a Romantic ballerina. Her upper body doesn't have the softness required for this sort of ballet, nor does she have the light airy jumps. And as a portrayal she didn't convince either. She doesn't exude frailty -- she looks like a hearty, healthy, happy village lass. Her Spessitvseva variation had great hops on pointe but her upper body just didn't sing "I'm in love." In Act Two there wasn't a sense of a spirit healing and saving Albrecht -- there's something too down to earth with Murphy for her to pull that off. I understand that she has been suffering from an injury but the steps in Act Two were fine, although there was some wobbliness in the exposed developpé-to arabesque penchée that starts the grand pas de deux.  Still, steps or no steps, it wasn't a Giselle. She checked the boxes and that was it. The romantic chemistry with Hallberg was not there either. I've seen them paired in a number of ballets together and they always exude a brother/sister vibe.

Abrera as Myrtha, photo @ Gene Schaivone
Stella Abrera's Myrtha is a well-known portrayal. She was commanding, and her face had a ghostly pallor that was spooky. Overall it was odd casting -- Abrera is the natural Giselle, with those wispy arms and soft, pliant upper body, while Murphy's powerhouse technique and rigid, block-like torso makes her a more natural Myrtha (a part she's played beautifully for many years). In the peasant pas de deux Joseph Gorak and Skylar Brandt were very charming. Gorak has a clean style and beautiful form -- wonder why his career at ABT has stalled.  Brandt continues to be one of the most promising soloists -- I actually can't wait for her to dance Giselle one day. Craig Salstein was a wonderful Hilarion -- you felt for the poor guy when he threw the flowers he'd left on Giselle's doorstep away. The Wilis were the usual ABT level -- not great, with a few sagging legs and sickled feet which were the most noticeable in  those famous arabesque chug across the stage.

Marcelo and Stella, photo @ Kent G. Becker

The May 30th performance celebrated Marcelo Gomes' 20th anniversary with the company. Gomes has always been ABT's rock -- the company's best partner and one of the most versatile dancers. In recent years Marcelo has been scaling back his performances. There is a heaviness to his dancing now -- the jumps are lower, the landings not as soft, and in those parallel assemblés with Giselle in Act 2 he didn't cover that much space. But in other ways but this performance of Giselle showed that he's still got IT -- in Act 2 he lifted Stella in those parallel press lifts like she was paper. His partnering was beautiful in the pas de deux. He also completed a clean set of entrechats. Moreover, his portrayal of Albrecht is still convincing -- not the icy prince of David Hallberg. Sort of a rakish playboy. If you follow Marcelo's Instagram you know that he has a wonderful sense of humor. His Albrecht has the same joie de vivre. I hope he continues to dance with ABT for many years to come, even if it's character roles. His Widow Simone was one of the funniest performances I've ever seen.

Abrera as Giselle, photo @ Andrea Mohin
Marcelo's partner for this evening was the eternally lovely Stella Abrera. Abrera, unlike Gillian Murphy, is a natural Giselle. She skips out the house and you love her. She pledges her love to Albrecht and your heart aches for her.  She emerges from the grave in Act 2, her whole face drained of life, and a chill goes up your spine. One caveat: her mad scene reads as slightly calculated and mechanical. Her performance was not technically perfect -- her Act 1 variation had a shaky moment when she put her free leg down, readjusted, then completed the hops on pointe. But as with most special artists you focus on what she can do more than what she can't. Her light, airy jump (those assemblés just floated across the stage and her entrechats were so fast and buoyant), her wispy arms, her pliant upper body, her sweet demeanor, all of these made for a wonderful Giselle.

Christine Schevchenko's Myrtha was not on the level of Abrera's Myrtha. But she's still growing in the role. Cassandra Trenary was wonderful in the peasant pas de deux, Blaine Hoven less so -- he was rather sloppy in his variation and frankly looked out of shape. Thomas Forster's Hilarion was also not as articulate with the mime as Craig Salstein. The two Wili attendants Melanie Hamrick and April Giangusero were very consistent throughout the run.

Lane and Cornejo
It was the third Giselle on 5/31, however, that will live in my memory. This Giselle almost didn't happen -- Herman Cornejo was originally scheduled to dance with Maria Kochetkova. But Maria got injured, and so Sarah Lane subbed for her. And she is quite simply on the short list for the best Giselle I've ever seen (and this list includes Diana Vishneva, Natalia Osipova, Alina Cojocaru, and Nina Ananiashvilli).

This was one of those magical performances where everyone was on. Even the peasant pas de deux was clean and bouncy and added to the story rather than serving as a placeholder. Cassandra Trenary's pirouettes and sustained arabesques were lovely, and Gabe Stone Shayer had some very clean cabrioles in his variation.  Christine Shevchenko's Myrtha was much more elevated and intense tonight -- she just seemed to jump higher and farther. Craig Salstein repeated his poignant portrayal of Hilarion.

But the heart of the performance was Sarah Lane's unforgettable account of the title role. What separated Lane from Abrera and Murphy was: 1) her technical security; and 2) the intensity of her portrayal. The technical security allowed her to roll her foot down from arabesque to pencheé without any obvious gear shifting, and to hop across the stage on pointe as if it were the easiest thing in the world in the Act 1 variation. It allowed her to transform herself from a still ghost to a whirling frenzy in the Wili initiation scene. Her turns in attitude were faster than anyone I've ever seen, except for maybe Osipova. It allowed her to hold the sustained developpé and arabesques without any apparent effort, and for her to fly across the stage in any form of jump, be it the assemblés, sissones, entrechats, the soubresauts, or the grand jetés. It's obvious she prepared meticulously for this opportunity and grabbed the brass ring.

But all this would have been for naught had there not been a strong characterization. Lane's Giselle despite her pretty, petite girlish looks was almost frightening in her intensity. The emphatic, desperate way she clung to Albrecht, or implored her mother to let her dance, or glanced at Bathilde (Brittany DeGrofft) with a mix of envy and admiration, all set her apart from the rest of the village girls. In the Act 1 variation she kept looking at Albrecht with a mix of adoration and lust. In the mad scene instead of moving carefully from iconic pose to iconic pose she danced feverishly until she fell to the ground in exhaustion. It was an eerie foreshadowing of Act 2. And the intensity extended to the more abstract second act. For the first time I could clearly see Giselle imploring, no, commanding, Albrecht to get up and dance. When Giselle held up her two fingers as a final pledge of love you believed her, and thus you believed in Gautier's tragedy.

Herman Cornejo had wonderful chemistry with Lane. You can see where he's still injured -- his free leg seemed stiff, and he had difficulty lifting his leg in arabesque. But his cabrioles are still the highest, the freest, the most expansive, and he completed two wonderful diagonals of brisés. The brises make more sense than the entrechats dramatically -- the brisé diagonal looks like Myrtha's force is drawing Albrecht to his doom. And his partnering was fine. Only the first press lift had a somewhat awkward position and exit. His portrayal also matched Lane's intensity. This couple in the first act were all over each other. They couldn't stop hugging, kissing, caressing each other. This was a love story, not just a nobleman having some fun.

Sarah Lane has been a soloist for a long time, and she's seen opportunities slip away. But after this performance of Giselle, I don't know how she can not be principal. This was indeed a celebration of her hard work and dedication.

And here is her Instagram showing that after such a show, she still has a sense of humor:
A post shared by Sarah Lane (@sarahlaneps103) on


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