Friday, May 18, 2007

The Ballet bounces back

Larissa Ponomarenko and Roman Rykine take flight in Giselle. (Photo by Evan Richman, Boston Globe staff.)

Only days after my complaints about the Boston Ballet's Balanchine program, they came tearing back with an elegant rendering of Giselle - with one of its strongest points being precisely what I criticized in the earlier evening, the corps de ballet. This time out, however, the corps (at least the feminine half) was in startlingly sharp shape as the "Wilis" (yes, you read that right), the ghosts of girls who have died before their wedding days. Of course, Giselle isn't quite as demanding as The Four Temperaments - but still, the line of the corps was consistently poised and clean, their patterned movement (particularly in their marching arabesques) gracefully synchronized, and the tone of Maina Gielgud's choreography was just right: spooky, at first a bit silly (to get that "the Wilis give you the willies" thang out of the way), but with a developing undertone of incipient vengeance.

The rest of Gielgud's production was just about right, too - not, perhaps, innovative, but confident, insightful, and mature (and boasting rich, exquisitely coordinated set and costume designs by Peter Farmer). Gielgud clearly understands that Giselle is as much acted as it is danced, and she drew deeply felt performances from her principals (but then anyone who saw The Taming of the Shrew a season or two ago knows the Ballet is stacked with good actors). As Giselle, Larissa Ponomarenko was all breathless fragility while being seduced by the besotted Prince Albrecht (Roman Rykine), and once betrayed by the faithless royal (who, it turns out, is already betrothed) came undone with alarming commitment - literally unable to keep either her physical or mental balance. Rykine, for his part, held onto our sympathy for Albrecht by making him an intriguing mix of sensitivity and privilege; his betrayal here played as an unhappy return to duty by someone who hadn't quite realized the depth of the emotions he was toying with. And technically, Rykine has rarely been better; he held himself in close, synchronized sympathy to Ponomarenko during their dances, and his leaps shot skyward with a clean, aquiline grace.

But the evening, frankly, probably belonged to Kathleen Breen Combes (below), who stalked the stage with memorable hauteur as Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis, who forces her spectral sorority to dance till dawn - and boogie to the death any man foolish enough to intrude on their moonlit grove. Needless to say, the heartbroken Albrecht falls into their clutches, but is saved by the forgiving Giselle, who dances protectively with him until sunrise (another of Giselle's suitors, here essayed with contained fire by Reyneris Reyes, doesn't get off so easily). Ponomarenko and Rykine were once again peerless together, but somehow Combes stole the show with every imperious entrance, brandishing some decidedly phallic garlands and heartlessly whipping her hapless pledges into shape. It was a starmaking turn for current second-soloist Combes, but only one of many glittering moments in this memorable Giselle.

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