Stella Aberra’s ABT debut as Giselle with Mariinsky’s Vladimir Shklyarov Saturday evening was a magnificent and memorable performance. Stella has been waiting for the chance a long time. She was originally scheduled to perform the role in 2008 but had to withdraw due to injury. For some reason, she has not been cast since at ABT, although she performed the role for The Australian Ballet in April and Ballet Philippines last year. Only when Polina Semionova was pulled due to injury a week ago did Stella get her chance.
Stella lit up the stage in front of an enthusiastic Met house. Her portrayal of Giselle effectively ran the gamut, from a frail, shy girl in Act I to a defiant afterlife spirit determined to protect the man she loved from the powerful Myrta in Act II. Her technique was on the mark with lush panches, arabesques, and extensions with flowing arms that extended her long line, although her hops on pointe along a diagonal in Act I were hesitant and reached half the stage. Her mad scene was well done, but not overdone as she succumbed to the depths of madness.
The bond between Stella and Vladimir was moving and remarkable considering they only had a week working together. They moved in unison, complementing each other in the Act II pas de deux with perfect timing on opposing assembles. His partnering was strong.
Vladimir energetically portrayed the conflicted cad Prince Albrecht, torn by his love for Giselle and the reality of his pending wedding to Bathilde (played by the too understated Leann Underwood). In addition to his solid dramatic capabilities, his technique is wonderful with nicely arched back, feet, and line. In his second solo in Act II, his double cabrioles drew applause with an exaggerated extension to the front after his second beat. His double assembles and tours had nice height and tight landings in fifth position, concluding his solo with multiple pirouettes to a double tour to the knee, falling in character in exhaustion.
However, Vladimir’s technical tour de force of the evening was his 34 entrechat six after his second solo. An entrechat six is a standard male step consisting of six crossings of the feet from fifth position. However, stringing together multiple beats is a tough assignment; as the legs grow fatigued (try jumping as high as you can in your living room 34 times) the tendency is to move the legs in an unattractive front-to-side movement rather than the proper side-to-side movement. Vladimir’s form was perfect as he maintained the side-to-side action of his legs while his arms flowed to various positions from front to overhead. A remarkable technical and physical achievement.
The corps was also impressive, moving in unison in the dramatic arabesque section in Act II. Veronica Part was Mytra, Queen of the Wilis. She has a commanding stage presence and jumps that cover most of the stage. Veronica generally dominates the action but Saturday, Stella drew most of the attention. This was Stella’s night and nobody was going to upstage her.
With Principal Dancers Paloma Herrera, Julie Kent, and Xiomara Reyes departing at the end of the season, Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie has a number of decisions to make. With her world class performance Saturday, Stella Abrera made a convincing case that she is ready to assume a Principal Dancer role at ABT.
Saturday was a special evening for another reason as numerous ABT alumni were in attendance for a reunion event. I sat next to a former dancer in the 1980s. She reminisced about her short time at ABT, which was cut short by an illness. She had fond things to say about then Artistic Director Mikhail Baryshnikov, citing him as a father figure to her in her young days.