Thursday, February 03, 2011

"Giselle" - San Francisco Ballet

War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA
January 30, 2011

More than any other classical story ballet, the success of "Giselle" rests on the shoulders of the ballerina cast as the tragic heroine.  Last Sunday afternoon brought us Sarah Van Patten in the title role and because she was Giselle, San Francisco Ballet's "Giselle" was fantastic.

Van Patten's first variation was stunning - her balletés delightfully springy; her long arabesque light and airy yet full and gooey at the same time.  Because of her attention to detail and mastery of technique, we were spared the thud of pointe shoes hitting the stage at the completion of each step; no unplanned audio distracted from Tomasson's choreography.  Some of her subsequent petit allegro sections needed more plié and heels that closed completely to the floor because when her heels are released, Van Patten has super relevé power.  It is those split seconds of repose that are exciting - when the weight is distributed on the whole foot in between each quick, intricate movement.  Van Patten plays the village maiden with a perfect level of navieté and anticipation.  But, I must admit, I was skeptical whether she would be able to pull off the 'mad scene'.  I was wrong.  She gave levels to that scene that I had never witnessed before: a delusional remembrance of innocence, a quiet descent toward psychosis, a maniacal laugh, panic and paranoia.  

Tomasson's movement passages for Act II revealed two sides of this complex character.  When Giselle was dancing amongst the Wilis without Albrecht, there was a very academic interpretation of the movement, almost lacking any feeling.  This is a complement not a criticism - there was a perfection of physicality, yet an emptiness of expression.  As Albrecht became part of the action, Van Patten's upper body immediately opened up with communicative freedom.  And the lifting of her leg in relevé long as she first sees him was the perfect representation of expansive searching. 

Of course, there were other notable moments in San Francisco Ballet's "Giselle".  Daniel Baker was probably the best Hilarion I have ever seen, and Frances Chung was appropriately stoic and calculating as Myrtha.  The corps women had a wonderful performance last Sunday; they have begun to gel as a group, a definite improvement over last month's "Nutcracker".  Tiit Helimets, as Albrecht, was the superior technician of the group, though his acting was not as convincing as it could have been. 

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