Class Concert/Giselle Double Bill
Ballet in Cinema rebroadcast
Champaign Art Theater, Champaign IL
16 October 2011, noon
After a while, Class Concert blurs together to leave the singular impression of a body suspended three feet off the ground, its legs contorted in some fantastically (and anatomically) improbable configuration. I do not object to the display of Soviet air superiority (and in fact adore it as I do a Comintern speech in Pravda), but I do feel that any exhibition of this graduation exercise should probably come with a surgeon general’s warning for the attendant risk of elevated blood pressure.
As do other pieces – most notably Études – in the genre, the choreographer promises a slightly enhanced look at a class at the Moscow Choreographic Institute. The beginning students pay attention to their placements and occasionally forget their combinations; the advanced students try to convince us that they still remember the basics as their battements come unhinged at the hips and swing uncomfortably close to their ears. Really, I don’t understand the modern Vaganova arabesque, which now exceeds 90 degrees by a wide margin, and in fact I will prefer to call everything penchée until someone can demonstrate a clear difference between the two.
Anyway, things progress quickly from barre demonstrations to center and allegro work. The progression reminds me of the Soul Train Line: featured dancers saunter down the diagonal, unleashing their best tricks for the folks at home. The petit and grand allegro steps look great in isolation, but Messerer’s choreography doesn’t leave much time (if any at all) for integrating the steps into a performance for anybody. All in all, the first half of this double bill left me feeling as if I had been pleasantly blindsided by a Mack truck.
An exhibition of Grigorovich’s Giselle followed after a very short pause. I had not sat through a full length Giselle in several years (my last was the 1977 Makarova/Baryshinov at the ABT), and I regret the refresher being a Soviet production*. I was tempted to do a stream of consciousness commentary, but that would have required more brainpower than I had at my disposal, and anyway, Act I can be adequately summarized as “Giselle’s best scenes as recounted by someone with nonlinear recollection and can only see in the red and yellow parts of the color spectrum”.
Lunkina is a limpid ballerina and perpetuates a quiet madness – what Joan Fontaine in Suspicion would call a Born Victim (BV): methinks any intense concentration and then dispersion of strong emotion would have done her in, eventually**. Gudanov, the cavalier, alternated between lunkheaded ardor and (microseconds of) genuine tenderness. Hilarion (casting unknown) was yet another BV: he existed to glower ineffectually until he is tossed off a cliff by a bunch of ghostly brides.
The White Act fared better, if only because there were fewer rearrangements and cuts. Allash was a stern but utterly ineffectual Myrthe. She had no power in her jetés and any sense of command came through primarily as indifference. Perhaps I am spoiled by the expectation of the Bolshoi ballon (see: Alexandrova), but this Myrthe seemed too earthbound and petty to pose a threat. And while a Vaganova-trained corp is always a pleasure to behold, the classical posture clashed mightily with ghostly afterimages of the Romantic choreography, and the ‘plonks’ of their rock-like pointe shoes in traveling forward arabesques sounded like the Wilis were putting down horseshoes***.
When not strangled by prop trees when dropping lilies at Albrecht or wobbling in adagio, Lunkina was a wisp of a spirit, perpetually a little out of focus to Albrecht and the audience. Even when prompted by love to save her lunkhead lover, this was a Giselle who was done with life and finally at peace with it. Gudanov improves in the second act: his line is gorgeous and he dances the hell out of the choreography. In fact his acting improves, possibly because of it. I wonder if the choreography takes his attention away from the need to sell everything to the audience (thus appropriately centers his acting within the dancing)…or perhaps I just really love his accelerating brisé volées as he pleads his case. The second act rescues my reaction back to a respectable ‘meh’, but merciful Zeus, I’ll not seek out this production willingly anytime soon.
This was my first time watching a Ballet in Cinema production. The sound quality was good but was occasionally overmiked, something that was particularly noticeable when a whole corp de ballet lands at once. The video quality was variable. Class Concert was adequately photographed, by which I mean the whole body was satisfactorily filmed and feet and heads were not lopped off. While the cameramen correctly anticipate the entrances, occasionally they miscalculate the speed at which the choreography moves and have trouble transitioning between dancers. Giselle was filmed like a Lifetime drama, and the less said about that, the better.
And in the final score: Class Concert 1, Giselle 0, your Critic 13.75 USD.
*In fairness, my friend C tells me that the Vasiliev ‘yellow tutu’ version is worse, but I haven’t had the happy privilege of viewing it, thus far. Here I request that the reader desist from offering it to me…unless they also have the travesty that is the Vasiliev Swan Lake for my full enjoyment.
**Probably a good thing that she hasn’t had much to disturb her life until now!
***Michael Somes uses this expression when he rehearses the ABT in Symphonic Variations (see: Frederick Wisemen's documentary Ballet). I found this expression so succinctly apt that I have stolen it for my very own.