I will start, not with the first performance I saw, but with the third, because I’m sure you are all keen to hear about Maria Riccetto’s debut as Giselle.
With a fantastic exuberance, Maria/Giselle bounded out of her cottage, the very picture of youthful energy. Her opening little dance was beautifully performed, with high, gliding grand jetés and a definite bounce in all her jumps. Especially graceful were Maria’s ballottés, those “pendulum” developpés front and back (my term – it’s where it looks like Giselle is a bell being swung back and forth, a particularly attractive movement, made all the more so by a high jump).
Appropriately shy when she bumps into “Loys”, the flirting duet is carried out very well, both dancers being youthful and true, in this way, to the story. During an early sequence, with me hoping it wasn’t a portent, Maria slipped – just slightly – on flat foot, on a patch of stage near the cottage. It must have affected her, this being her debut and the misstep occurring so soon into the ballet. It makes a dancer feel a little unsure of her footing, especially when such a thing happens when you’re not even on pointe.
David Hallberg’s Count Albrecht, from the outset, was assured and riveting – but always came across (to me, at least) as a boy performing a man’s role very well. Ironically, the Count is supposed to be young, but we expect the maturity of an older dancer to execute the role to perfection. David is certainly a striking figure, with his blond good looks, long perfect lines, and THOSE FEET! The technical aspects of the role were in his back pocket and he had no trouble with any of the choreography. It came naturally to him. He tried, of course, to act through all the emotions required of Albrecht, but came off more childlike when he wanted to convey shock, and reminded me of a deer caught in the headlights.
Memorable Act I David moments:
1) that step where Albrecht repeatedly lunges to the side in plié dragging his extended left foot along the ground -- well, the point of his tendu is so exquisite that I’d be surprised if he didn’t carve a groove in the stage floor.
2) As Giselle has drawn her last breath and he rushes to her body, he attaches himself to her side so securely that Wilfred has to lift him off in one piece, with his legs still curled up under him, so reluctant is he to be moved. It’s the way a mother picks up an errant toddler who cannot stop a crying jag and refuses to extend his legs in order to stand.
Maria, meanwhile, has her famous variation to do and she is dancing beautifully -- wonderful extensions, poses, and mannerisms. Then it's time for that diagonal. She runs to the corner to begin it. However, as soon as she takes her position for the diagonal hops on pointe, there is trouble on the horizon. She starts hopping, but her arms seem shaky and her face shows concern. She is not in the zone – not properly on her legs. After a dozen of so of the 3 dozen hops, she has to come down off pointe and pose prettily for the rest of the music. Poor Maria. My heart went out to her. For us in the audience, unless we knew the choreography, nothing seemed amiss, but for the dancer, this is one of her proving ground moments in Giselle.
(A little aside about hops on pointe: you have to have a foot built for them in order to do them easily. A too-flexible foot has trouble supporting the weight of the body on, primarily, the big toe. Paloma Herrera, a case in point, does these hops very well, having had lots of experience with them, by angling her foot so that the stress does not fall on her extremely high instep or arch. She bends her foot to counterbalance the pressure point. Many dancers can hop on point with ease because the anatomy of their foot presents no problem. Some, even world-famous, dancers, find it quite difficult.)
Maria has a long, not overly arched foot on pointe, so I suspect that the problem lay in her starting position, which is hard to amend mid-diagonal. You have to be in place from the outset, then the rest comes naturally. She never looked at ease during the hops she did do, her upper body was held tightly and her arms had no freedom of movement.
Yet, she rallied and finished Act I with aplomb.
In Act II, we had a new Maria Riccetto, who came alive (pardon the irony) with renewed inspiration. She was ‘da bomb! She passed every Giselle-as-Wili with flying colors, from the opening whirligig to the the juicy developé to the airborne sauté arabesques. Maria’s pas de deux with David were extremely poignant, each dancing so assuredly, that it made one ache for the naïveté of young love. Maria/Giselle, having already gained some maturity as a rookie Wili, wafted over the stage with light, airy dancing to distract Myrta and later to lift an exhausted Albrecht through their final pas de deux just before daybreak.
David Hallberg’s Count reacted to the essence of his Giselle with hyper-sensitivity. His performance had just the right touch. Most memorable David moment in Act II? The unforgettable, most incredible changements battus I’ve ever seen! It’s THE FEET! The height of his jump! His beats had the tight articulation of which every dancer, male or female, dreams. Even the shape of his legs while he’s doing the series of advancing beats – the way his muscles are defined – is breathtakingly exquisite!
(This performance review will continue. To come: Jared Matthews’ Hilarion, Maria Bystrova’s Bathilde, Misty Copeland and Craig Salstein’s peasant PDD, Michele Wiles' Myrta, Isabella Boylston’s Moyna, etc.)