The juxtaposition of paradox gives Diana Vishneva’s Giselle an almost stinging power. She both channels the sinewy signature of her body and attack and remakes them into states of impressionable impalpability. I’ve been watching her dance Giselle for over a decade, and her performance last Friday with American Ballet Theatre was one of her most evenly balanced. Both acts—Act One earthly, Act Two extra-terrestrial—were equally impressive. Each act informed and complemented the other.

Diana Vishneva’s Giselle

Diana Vishneva’s in ABT's Giselle / Photo: MIRA

It was a different performance than she’d given with the Mariinsky in February in Washington, D.C. For my taste, her first act was a decided improvement. The key to the improvement was new simplicity. Responses that had been overly arch and ornamented at the Kennedy Center had now been distilled. She performed less of the act directly facing the audience. She was no longer so prone to abasement when enchanted by the regal trappings of Bathilde, unbeknown to Giselle the true fiancée of her royal-disguised-as-rustic suitor Count Albrecht.


Nor did she succumb to premonitory portentousness in her first act, as she has sometimes done in previous performance with ABT. She still gives an anticipatory signal to her heart attack during the Waltz, (Giselle’s body and her spirit are overly-sensitive in romantic tradition) but both the warning symptom and the attack itself were muted. Fleeting moments when she let her legs fall into unequivocally earthy and realistic parallel position were just fleeting enough to register truthfully without transgressing romantic ballet’s insistence on the power of suggestion.


There was also more restraint in her descent into madness upon learning that she has been betrayed at the conclusion of act one; she didn’t begin hunched over in a frozen contraction, as she had in Washington. Moments of almost wanton shuddering were interesting.


Throughout Act One, Vishneva’s jumps had been mostly light and low to show the carefree acceptance, delight and reciprocal ardor with which she responded to Albrecht’s attentions. In Act Two, her jumps were by contrast infused with almost infernal energy, an ideal flamboyance to project the romantic derangement that permeates this act, set as it is in the undead realm of the Wilis. Only in one diagonal of jetés did she push too hard to maintain the balletic style of romanticism in her arms, the way that positions are seemingly exfoliated and not brought to finite conclusion.


Marcelo Gomes was Vishneva’s Act One seducer, her Act Two recipient of redemption. He danced with strength and suavity and didn’t seem, as he has sometimes over the last year, to be bluntly muscling through things rather than utilizing isometric equilibrium and opposition. If he lacks the last word in aristocratic refinement supplied by the Mariinsky’s Andrian Fadeyev in Washington, so be it.


A week earlier in Don Quixote, Veronika Part was sizzling on the piazza but too sluggish in dreamland in the dual role ABT now makes of Street Dancer and Dryad Queen. As the Wilis’ sovereign Myrtha on Friday, she rallied with a muster of Olympian energy. She didn’t get sloppy – she maintained structural aplomb in the most enormous leaps—but it was an absolutely unsparing performance. Her gestures and presence were eloquent and sometimes thrilling.


Maria Riccetto and Jared Matthews’s interpretative stance in the Act One Peasant pas de Deux was noteworthy. There was youthful solicitude between them but they weren’t cutesy or overly juvenile; their elegance was genuine without attempting to match that of their aristocratic “betters.” Riccetto danced poetically, her athletic exertion subject to an over-arching impression of easy triumph over gravity. Matthews gave a strong blueprint but didn’t articulate lines and shapes as fully as he’s surely capable of doing.


This American Ballet Theatre cast dances Giselle again at the Metropolitan Opera House on June 2.


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