If you’re a fan of gravity defying leaps, Lincoln Center was the place to be Thursday evening as Natalia Osipova and Leonid Sarafanov closed out Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Lincoln Center Giselle, Ou Les Wilis run. Both dancers have enormous ballon, which is the ability to appear weightless in leaps, appearing to pause in midair. Natalia displayed this talent in the first act with light ballonnes and jetes, and second act leaps that included rond de jambs moving backward and changemants (jumps changing feet) in a backward diagonal. Her flowing arms in combination with her long gown made her appear weightless in the Act II forest. Leonid’s leaps were very controlled, aided by his long legs and nicely arched feet.
Natalia was an immature and trusting young girl who falls in love with the cad Count stranger (known in most productions as Albrecht), who pretends to be a peasant. Leonid has a boyish face with tightly cropped hair and looked the part of a young, spoiled, self-centered count unable to appreciate the gravity of his actions. The Gamekeeper (Hilarion in most productions) is in love with Giselle and finds out about the Count’s games. The Gamekeeper accuses the Count of duplicity and shows his sword as proof. As the Count’s fiancé appears, Giselle, a young girl with a weak constitution and heart, descends into a mad fit of grief, ultimately dying in the Count’s arms.
I enjoyed Natalia’s dramatic interpretation of the role; highlights include her initial meeting with the Count; her stroking the dress of the Count’s fiancé; her pantomime indicating that she is a peasant that sewed her own dresses. She demonstrated great joy in her dancing as she was overcome by her love of the Count. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, her mad scene was energetic, but not overdone. Leonid was a bit subdued in the role, not the most outgoing Count that I have seen.
Act II highlights were Natalia’s brisk hops in attitude and changements with bent knees that made her look as if she was floating. Leonid completed about 38 entrechat six, a difficult and exhausting task. Entrechat six (six crossings of the legs) is a difficult step, but putting together 38 consecutively is an amazing accomplishment. In my day, I could string together a few decent entrechat six; however, after several, fatigue would set in and my form deteriorated. Rather than a nice side to side beating and crossing movement, my turnout faltered and my legs went from front to back in a visually unappealing looking step. Leonid’s great feat was maintaining his perfect form and articulation as the beats cross side to side, all while he running out of gas shortly after his second solo.
The two danced well together, although not always in synch in the assemble section in Act II. Leonid’s solo was nice, featuring double cabrioles with great separation after the second beat. His tours on a diagonal were not the best I have seen.
Ekaterina Borchenko was the Queen of the Wilis (Myrta in most productions). Ekaterina was very effective, with her tall, commanding stature and long limbs making for an intimidating presence as she sentenced men to dance to their death.
The Corps danced in unison, particularly in the famous arabesque chug section, although this part was a bit noisy. Act II sets were beautiful, but I found the moving tree limbs distracting and pointless. Why do tree limbs in this forest move up and down?
Vladimir Tsal was the Gamekeeper and was believable as a bitter villager in love with Giselle who ultimately exposes the Count. Veronika Ignatyeva and Andrey Yakhnyuk performed the Peasants’ pas de deux. Veronika’s long limbs controlled much of the stage on her arabesques. Andrey’s double tours were nice and exact, with his pirouette work somewhat lacking.
Flames of Paris has its U.S. debut Friday at 7:30 pm, with two performances on Saturday (2 pm and 8 pm) and one performance Sunday (2 pm). Ivan Vasiliev and Leonid will be in all performances except for the Saturday matinee.