Natalia Osipova, David Hallberg Electric in Giselle

Lincoln Center was electric Friday evening with a full house, some paying $250 or more for orchestra seats to see the birthday duo Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg in Giselle. Approaching the Metropolitan Opera House, there was a buzz that reminded me of ABT 10-15 years ago when the company fielded superstar studded casts with regularity. Many were anticipating this performance for months and were holding their breath in anticipation due to David’s much publicized injury issues. David was injured at the start of the first act in The Royal Ballet’s Giselle with Natalia in March. He made it through the Act I, but had to bow out in Act II. He was not able to perform in his second scheduled performance with the company.

Natalia and David did not disappoint, with a memorable performance, the best I have seen from ABT in a long time (check out curtain call photos on my photography website The two brought out the best in each other from the moment their eyes met at the beginning of Act I, with each movement and emotion put forth with great gusto and passion. Natalia was so expressive, her face beaming with joy at the sight of Count Albrecht as she projected to the upper sections of the cavernous Met. She was masterful in portraying the frail but strong-willed girl infatuated with the count. David was up to Natalia’s high standard, portraying the cad count with great range and nuance.

Natalia’s mad scene was terrifying as she commanded the stage with a crazed look, shaking uncontrollably at times; she really looked like someone losing control. A believable and disturbing portrayal of a girl gone mad.

Both were in fine form technically. Natalia’s Act I solo featured effortless rond de jamb hops on point along a diagonal that drew great applause, and finished up with crazy energy piqué turns. She did leave out the customary arabesque penchés in favor of a balance in arabesque. Her dancing was solid in Act II, with a fine adagio section with great extension and balance, frenetic high energy hops in attitude, and light, high assemblés that made her look lighter than air. It was apparent Friday that Natalia is one of the great female jumpers in ballet today.

Natalia Osipova, David Hallberg Electric in Giselle

Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg react to Happy Birthday sung by the audience. Click for more photos.

David had a few problems on his turns last year in his return performance, possibly a result of his injury. His solo work Friday was at a higher level, with no wobbles on his turns. His Act II solo featured nice 3-4 pirouettes to attitude turns; double tours along a diagonal with minimal cheating, and a nice double assemblé. The highlight of his solo work was his entrechat six. After getting no reprieve from Myrta, Queen of the Wilis, he performed 23 entrechat six, a beautiful sequence (see 3:00 in the entrechat six video link for Roberto Bolle’s beats in Giselle). I have a great appreciation for multiple entrechat six. As a dancer many years ago, I could string together about five nice entrechat six. After a few good ones, fatigue set in; sucking wind, my nicely articulated side-to-side leg movements turned to unattractive front-to-back movements with limited turnout, coupled with my upper body heaving up and down. Doing a long stretch of entrechat six with form is a great endurance accomplishment. Nice to see him do the entrechat six as he did last year rather than the simpler brisé along a diagonal.

The packed crowd was enthusiastic and appreciative. Natalia and David appeared for several curtain calls, with the audience breaking out in a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday for the two. From the photo above, Natalia and David were greatly amused.

ABT hit on all cylinders Friday as several other dancers excelled, probably fueled by Natalia and David’s efforts. Christine Shevchenko was much better as Myrta Friday than the Wednesday matinée. Wednesday she had a few hops on her unstable adagio solo. She smoothed out the rough edges with a fine performance with nice extensions and leaps. Peasant Pas de Deux with Skylar Brandt and Joseph Gorak was also at a high level. Skylar reminds me of Natalia, with great jumps and energy combined with well-timed and controlled turns. Hopefully, she will graduate from Peasant Pas de Deux duty to Giselle and/or Odette/Odile soon. I didn’t like Joseph in this role last year as he lacked energy. His dancing in the role was at a higher level Friday, with clean solos. Thomas Forster was effective Hilarion, the village huntsman interested in Giselle.