If ever a ballerina was born to perform the role of Giselle, it is Diana Vishneva of American Ballet Theatre.
Making her first act entrance with feather-light jumps and the buoyant optimism of a naive peasant girl, Vishneva’s Giselle goes beyond many of the trite tropes of the role.
Giselle is supposed to be girlish and flirtatious, and while Vishneva was both Friday at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, she took the character development to another level.
“Giselle” is a dramatic high point in ballet repertory, not only for the psychological breakdown of the title character in the first act, but as one of the few love-story ballets where courtship is performed onstage, instead of merely taken as a given, such as with the accepted mutual infatuation of “Romeo and Juliet.”
Vishneva’s impeccable musicality worked in her favor, filling some of the yawning phrases in Adolphe Adam’s score with longing glances towards Prince Albrecht.
Marcelo Gomes’ Albrecht was refreshingly robust, almost edgy.
With his rough, sudden passes at Giselle, impetuously grabbing her waist and lunging after her, his impatience is apparent.
Vishneva, although encouraging Gomes, grows to be more comfortable with his assertive attentions. The evolution of their affection makes his betrayal of Giselle, and her subsequent mental unraveling, all the more heartbreaking. Her mad scene proved effectively subtle, almost internalized, as if she was a girl caught in the traumatic fissure between dream and reality, sleeping and waking, only to find that Albrecht’s betrayal is her living nightmare and the catalyst for her demise.
Albrecht is a strange character, a two-timing fraud who can still elicit sympathy, as did Gomes with his repentant walk towards Giselle’s grave in the second act.
Vishneva’s theatrical prowess continues, as love unfolds out of her arms while arching back over Albrecht, protecting him from imminent demise at the hands of Myrta, queen of the Wilis.
Veronika Part’s cool reserve suits the part of the Queen, and ABT’s corps of Wilis were militaristically uniform.
Gennadi Saveliev performed a thrillingly desperate Hilarion, and Gomes’ final series of flawless entrechat sixes built up to such an emotional pitch, he brought the house down, the audience roaring in support as he hurled himself at Myrta’s feet.
As a Wili and member of the spirit world, Giselle must be both airy and weighted, tethered to the grave. While the choreography emphasizes this duality, Vishneva’s attentiveness to port de bras and musical phrasing made her spirit self uncannily tangible.
Presented by American Ballet Theatre
Where: Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York
When: Today through June 2
Tickets: $20 to $145