It was an exciting afternoon performance of Giselle today. There were three major debuts: Sarah Lane as Giselle, Daniil Simkin as Albrecht and Christine Shevchenko as Myrta.
The characterization was exactly what I thought it would be when I saw a clip of Lane/Simkin dancing on Lane’s Instagram. Daniil Simkin’s Albrecht was extremely self entitled. While his take on the role didn’t make him a bad guy, it certainly didn’t leave him off the hook in regards to Giselle’s fate. Simkin was a spoiled, handsome nobleman used to getting his way with the ladies, and he saw no reason why he shouldn’t play around with Giselle. This allowed Sarah Lane to play up her gullibility and guilelessness towards Albrecht. It never occurs to Lane’s Giselle that Albrecht is a bit too good to be true. She doesn’t hide her love from him or anyone else. Her constant shying away from him isn’t due to coquettishness but her absolute attraction to him both emotional and physical. She is a very young girl experiencing mature love for the first time and it knocks her off her feet. Again, as I suspected, a less than good Albrecht absolutely changes Hilarion’s part in the drama. Craig Salstein was very handsome, gentle and down to earth in the role. His Hilarion doesn’t look like a boorish stalker because he isn’t. He has very good reasons to believe that Giselle will be his future wife. Lane supports this acting by looking very guilty when Hilarion discovers her with Albrecht. The shame is an interesting element. This indicates something entirely new from any interpretation I’ve seen before. Hilarion and Giselle were a couple. Maybe they were making first steps toward love (Hilarion feeling more than Giselle). The appearance of Albrecht was most definitely a recent occurrence and he deliberately swept Giselle off her feet. Sadly, it seems Giselle has thrown away something real for a mere dream. This is what leads to her downfall.
The dancing of Lane and Simkin in the first act was fabulous. Lane flew across the stage with the orchestra playing at tempo. This gave her Giselle a daredevil aspect especially since this particular staging emphasizes the character’s ill health. Lane performed the famous hops on pointe in the fastest and most devil may care fashion I’ve ever seen. This flashy, steely interpretation definitely leads to a big payoff in the second act. Simkin was physically perfect. His leaps hung in the air and the rest of his dancing finely formed.
The other standouts of Act 1 was Patrick Frenette as Albrecht’s squire. Corps dancer Katherine Williams was very natural and personable as one of Giselle’s friends. Cassandra Trenary was light and graceful in the Peasant Pas De Deux. Her partner Blaine Hoven was also wonderful.
The mad scene was one for the memories. Lane was both weakly pathetic and yet violently emotional. She performed a choice in her dancing that I’ve rarely seen. She purposely made loud noises with her pointe shoes, stomping in a way that reminded me of an angry horse. The slightly off kilter body added to view that this Giselle was stuck between heartbreak and rage. At one point, she began to clutch her chest and hyperventilate which was horrible to see because again the staging makes it so clear that Giselle is sickly. It’s at this point that Simkin’s Albrecht stops playing around and realizes what a big mistake he has made.
Act two began with a eerie Christine Shevchenko as a Myrta. Her solo was fantastic. She was backed up very nicely with Zhong-Jing Fang as Zulma and Paulina Waski as Moyna. There were a few snafus among the Wilis corps but nothing too awful. I did notice more shoe noise than there should have been. But it was kept under control. Craig Salstein performed a great solo with extremely fast chaine turns during his death scene.
But the highlight was watching the chemistry between Lane and Simkin. Simkin’s Albrecht is believably repentant and Lane was heroically, lovingly loyal. The courage of the first act had follow up in the second as her Giselle stood against Myrta’s magic. It was interesting to see the shock on Myrta’s face as her power waned against true love. The pas de deux partnering was very solid. I never feared a slip up and Simkin showed Lane off to best effect. His strong lifts adding to the appearance of Giselle’s ethereality. Lane was strong from her first blisteringly fast arabesque turns to her willfull petite allegro. While she doesn’t have large jumps, she was very quick, deft and graceful in her epaulement. Simkin’s solo brought out cheers form the audience. He was so musical, so strong in his jumps with wonderful ballon. His acting was great as he makes it clear that he draws his strength from Giselle’s protection.
Everyone in the production drew well deserved standing ovations from the audience. I hope ABT takes note of the Simkin/Lane partnership and capitalizes on it. Maybe a Harlequinade couple next year? It is a shame that they were only given one NY Giselle appearance this season. They should definitely seek out a guest appearance together for another company. This particular Giselle team can grow in characterization and technique into even more wonderful performances.