It is a challenge to fall asleep after a hyper emotional and deeply touching ballet performance, let alone feeling unaffected. Last night, having witnessed the historic and much-awaited performance of “Giselle” by Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg with the American Ballet Theatre, I had a huge difficulty falling asleep. And when I woke up this morning, I saw in my mind’s eye a repeat of the beginning of the mad scene in Act 1, where Giselle came to the sudden realization of Albrecht’s betrayal. I remember how Natasha’s presentation of the initial shock hit my heart like a dagger. Her acting had such a realistic quality to it, that it struck a primal cord in me during the performance, with all the heartbreaks and betrayals suddenly coming to the fore. As I re-experienced that scene this morning, tears rushed out uncontrollably for the second time.
There was so much suspense surrounding this performance prior to its fruition. For months, the audience wondered if it would actually happen. First, there were speculations of whether Natasha would make it based on her record of injuries. Then, all of a sudden, news broke from London that David was injured while performing in his first reunion show with Natasha. Balletomanes were all holding their breath and many of us held off buying tickets for the evening, not knowing if David could make it. When finally the good news came that David had fully recovered and would be gracing the stage on the birthday that he shares with Natasha, the ticket prices skyrocketed. (On the day of the show, it was said that some Orchestra seats sold for $350!).
I pretty much gave up speculating as I simply could not afford to pay the price of any ticket to the show. Life’s huge transitions and the challenges I had been facing in my new career and business meant that I simply had to accept the fact that I could not afford to watch any ballet performances this season and for an indefinite amount of time. So when I got a message from an Instagram follower the evening before, asking me if I would like to receive the extra ticket she had, I was overjoyed! Thank you so, so much @pointecamille on IG! And what was originally a plan to join a visiting balletomane friend and two other local balletomanes for coffee before the show turned out to be a fun evening of sharing the audience-ship with them (even though we were seated separately).
Oh, and what an evening of VIPs! My Russian friend told me she ran into Diana Vishneva and congratulated her on the birth of her baby boy (she is reportedly back to her slim frame in no time!). I also spotted Eliza Gaynor Minden and Alexei Ratmansky in the audience.
Now, back to the main attractions: To witness this incredible and magical partnership of two ballet soul mates was akin to watching Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev—only that I was in the presence of two living legends. Natasha and David’s on-stage chemistry was mesmerizing and electric! In an interview just prior to the performance, the two dancers talk about how magical their partnership is and how they had longed to dance together on stage again. This tension and yearning to dance together was palpable in every jump, every move, every gesture and even blink of the eyes witnessed on stage last night. And the back story of how these two were prevented from dancing together by the grueling “realities” of dance injuries and uncertainties, made their performance all the more precious. It was truly a reunion of two dancing bodies and souls against all odds.
When it comes to the technical side of the performance, I was in heaven watching Natasha execute those weightless jumps and turns with such unbelievable ease, as if there was an invisible wire pulling her up from above her head and transparent springs attached to the platforms of her pointe shoes. One may argue that some of the bravura steps are even more amazing in some of the YouTube clips (especially those from her performance with David at the Bolshoi), which have wowed hundreds of thousands of viewers around the world. But seeing her live was a unique and incredulous experience—you could literally feel the energy emanating from this petite dancer’s body to all corners of the theater! David’s dancing was full of grace, joy and rigor. His 23 entrechat six in Act 2 was the highlight of his prowess, a triumph of his return from his recent injury. Overall, though, one can tell that he was ever so slightly cautious and a little retrained in his jumps throughout the performance. Regardless, I was simply overjoyed to see David fully recovered and performing with a renewed sense of hope and gratitude that filled his heart to the brim!
Not only was the dance technique stunning, it was beautifully and seamlessly woven into the story. Natasha once again stunned the audience with a new height in her artistry. She is a supreme artist in every way and never likes to rest on her laurels. Even with the same role that she has performed many times in her career, she brought an amazing sense of freshness in last night’s interpretation. Her altered interpretation in the mad scene, as I mentioned earlier, really touched the core of my soul and from then on, I had to fight back my tears so I could see the performance properly!
In ballet technique, you see how well-versed dancers are not only in the steps they execute, but in the “linking steps”—the glue in between steps. In last night’s performance, I saw the “glue” in the acting part, and so what used to be abrupt changes of story lines and scenes suddenly started to gel and make sense, particularly with Natalia’s ingenious and authentic style of acting. She transported us to the interior of Giselle’s mind in such immediacy that one could not help but feel the pain that she felt!
And David also brought a slightly different interpretation of Albrecht in his renewed partnership with Natasha, who is truly his “love-at-first-sight” dance partner. Other versions, as well as in the performance he did with Svetlana Zakharova, which I watched in Hong Kong several years ago, the Albrecht that I knew was, despite his love for Giselle, also a big jerk! But in last night’s performance, through David, I saw an Albrecht who was more consistently innocent and much more forgivable. In him, I saw a very young man who was forced to live as an aristocrat and to agree to an arranged marriage of status and convenience. In him, I saw a playful boy (rather than a playboy) who was attracted to the genuine love and passionate energy represented by this simple peasant girl. In him, I saw a longing for the simple life without a mask. All those were offered by Giselle almost like an apparition—too good to be true! Of course, just as in real life, the complications of bad health, social status mismatch, family opposition and so on came as obstacles that eventually turned this into a tragedy of epic scale. But while dramatic, the performance of the tragic turn of the events did not feel unrealistic or too melodramatic as many of the versions of Giselle I have seen, but authentic and even relate-able.
I must also mention what a beautiful performance that Christine Shevchenko gave in her role as Myrta. Her tall and lean physical attributes, her supremely graceful movements and beautiful technique made her a perfect dancer for this role. The Peasant Pas de Deux, danced by Skylar Brandt and Joseph Gorak, was a pure delight to watch.
The entire performance was simply out of this world and brought down the whole house! The curtain call, with standing ovation, was extremely long. David and Natasha came out several times and they even went to each side of the stage to bow to audience members, including me, who had a skewed or partial view of the stage. They received many bouquets of roses thrown on stage. David made a humorous gesture asking the audience if there were any more flowers, then he bowed down in front of Natasha and presented the flowers to her before planting a warm kiss on her cheek. At the end of the rapturous applaud, the audience surprised the two dancers by singing a birthday song to them—not only once but twice. Natalia was moved to tears. It was such an emotional end note to this historic performance—one that I will never, ever forget.
Postscript: If you are a follower of this blog, you might have noticed that the last time I blogged was almost a year ago! Since then, I did see a few ballet performances, mostly free-of-charge working rehearsals at NYCB, “The Red Shoes” with Marcelo Gomes and Sara Mearns, and an Eifman Ballet performance. There have been lots of restrictions for me due to a lack of funds. But, I have also somehow lost enthusiasm in writing reviews about ballet. There are many online discussions of ballet performances, many of which involve balletomanes trying to one-up one another to show off their knowledge and “exquisite” taste. I dislike such a competitive nature of discussion, and simply prefer to enjoy the performances that touch my soul. To my surprise, my passion to write about ballet was rekindled by last night’s performance, and I felt compelled to record my experience because it was simply too unforgettable.