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The Mikhailovsky Ballet Presents "Giselle, Ou Les Wilis" at the David H. Koch Theater
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The Mikhailovsky Ballet Presents "Giselle, Ou Les Wilis" at the David H. Koch Theater

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The Mikhailovsky Ballet

Giselle, Ou Les Wilis
Fantasy Ballet in Two Acts

Vladimir Kekhman, General Director, Mikhailovsky Theatre
Michael Tatarnikov, Musical Director and Principal Conductor
Nacho Duato, Resident Choreographer
Mikhail Messerer, Ballet Master in Chief
Andrey Kuligin, Company Manager
Evgeny Popov, Ballet Master
Michael Vool, Production Manager
Andrew Hill, Lighting Supervisor
KPM Associates, Kevin P. McAnarney, Press

In Performances at the David H. Koch Theater
At Lincoln Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 11, 2014

Giselle, Ou Les Wilis (Mikhailovsky Premiere, 2007): Music by Adolphe Adam, Libretto by Vernoy de Saint-Georges, Gautier, Coralli, Choreography by Coralli, Perrot, Petipa, Staged by Nikita Dolgushin, Set and Costume Design by Vyacheslav Okunev, Lighting Design by Mikhail Mekler, Stage Manager, Pavel Novosyolov, Conductor, Pavel Klinichev, Performed by Natalia Osipova, Leonid Sarafanov, Vladimir Tsal, Anna Novosyolova, Ekaterina Borchenko, Veronika Ignatyeva, Andrey Yakhnyuk, Roman Petukhov, Anna Naumenko, Valeria Zapasnikova, Olga Semyonova, Alexey Malakhov, and the Company.

It was truly exciting to attend the opening night of the Mikhailovsky Ballet’s United States debut at Lincoln Center tonight, especially with breathless anticipation of Natalia Osipova’s iconic interpretation of Giselle and with deep curiosity of any, even nuanced, differences in the Mikhailovsky’s presentation of a favorite ballet. There were many differences, all fascinating and enthralling. Even the name of tonight’s ballet added the Wilis, those ghost-like, ethereal dancers, young women who died while affianced, from a broken heart. The Wilis rise out of their graves from dusk to four AM and entrap any man who mistakenly crosses their path. Under the command of the Queen of the Wilis (Ekaterina Borchenko, usually called Myrta), the Wili ensemble dances that man to death and leads him over the Bavarian forest cliffs. Giselle is always performed in two distinct acts, one set in the square of a peasant village, with a view of the regal palace afar, and one set in the dark forest glade, lit only by the moon, until the church chimes four AM, when the Wilis lose their magical powers.

In the Mikhailovsky version, Vyacheslav Okunev has created unique scenery, with trees rising and falling to reveal the ghostly Giselle, now a Wili in Act II, in her white quasi-wedding costume with veil. Also in Act II, Giselle appears stage left floating in air, dropping white lilies onto the stage. Other differences include Giselle’s mother (Anna Novosyolova, in other versions called Berthe) making a later appearance tonight, and the Count’s (Leonid Sarafanov, usually called Albrecht) fiancée (Olga Semyonova, usually called Bathilde) making a much grander entrance from the hunting party. That hunting party, in Mr. Okunev’s costumes, now looks as if it were copied from a deck of cards, with fancy, retro balloon-like pants and puffy hats. The effect was authentic to the genre and entertaining. In Giselle’s mad scene, Ms. Osipova nearly stabbed herself with the Count’s sword, when she discovers that her fiancé was already engaged to the Duke’s (Alexey Malakhov) daughter. The Gamekeeper (a superbly theatrical Vladimir Tsal, usually called Hilarion) loses Giselle in Act I and then loses his life, near her grave, from the vengeful force of the Wilis, in Act II.

In her finest performance of Giselle that I have ever had the privilege to see, Ms. Osipova virtually lit up the stage. As the peasant who plucks daisy petals to see if the Count really loves her, who dances her heart out, literally, in the harvest celebration with the villagers, who poignantly seizes the stage in Act II, eventually saving her fiancé’s fate, by helping him dance through the four AM deadline, Ms. Osipova was making history as we watched. Her tiny backward, lifted steps, her bent torso, bowing forward, her floating leg-swings from the Count’s arms, her glassy gaze into the audience, as if she were a painting, and, earlier, her uncontrolled mad dance, swinging a sword in brisk circles, were all spellbinding. As the Count, Mr. Sarafanov was dramatic and poised. His wide scissors kicks to left and right, fighting the circular Wili brigade, were astounding. I did wish, though, that Mr. Tsal had been cast as the Count, with his charismatic presence and physique, sized better for the petite Ms. Osipova. Yet, as the Gamekeeper, he was outstanding, bristling with jealousy and dancing like a top, in the glade. Ms. Borchenko, as Wili Queen, was elegant, with long, fluid arms flying in the air like propellers. When she grasped the rosemary branches, her ensemble was at attention. Her leaps and twirls were effervescent.

Anna Naumenko and Valeria Zapasnikova danced impressive Wili variations, but the ensemble, in its interlocking choreography, hopping en pointe, then on flat shoes, deserved kudos for this virtuosic Corps. Olga Semyonova, as the Count’s fiancée, exuded enormous charisma and angst, in her plight, as she stormed offstage during Giselle’s mad scene. Pavel Klinichev, Conductor, kept the orchestra brisk, during the whirling, Wili, death-defying dances, but also sumptuously romantic, during Giselle and the Count’s searingly, sentimental pas de deux. Nikita Dolgushin’s staging was perfect for the Koch Theater’s size, and Mikhail Mekler’s lighting was bright for the village and dim for the glade. When four AM struck, the sky lightened with pink hues. Kudos to all.

The Mikhailovsky Ballet
in "Giselle, Ou Les Wilis"
Courtesy of The Mikhailovsky Ballet

Natalia Osipova and the Company of
The Mikhailovsky Ballet
in "Giselle, Ou Les Wilis"
Courtesy of Costas

The Mikhailovsky Ballet
in "Giselle, Ou Les Wilis"
Courtesy of Costas

Leonid Sarafanov in
"Giselle, Ou Les Wilis"
Courtesy of Mikhailovsky Ballet

The Mikhailovsky Ballet
in "Giselle, Ou Les Wilis"
Courtesy of the Mikhailovsky Ballet

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at