Above: Stella Abrera
Saturday May 23rd, 2015 - Stella Abrera danced her first Giselle with American Ballet Theatre at The Met this evening; she had previously danced the role with the Company on tour. Ms. Abrera was originally to have debuted as the iconic Wili at The Met in 2008 but an injury intervened. Now at last we have the beauteous ballerina's Giselle onstage here in New York, and what a lovely and moving interpretation it is. The audience, which included some 200 former members of ABT there to honor the Company's 75th anniversary, gave Ms. Abrera and her partner, Vladimir Shklyarov, a delirious standing ovation.
ABT's GISELLE is a classic. Having seen it many times, there are of course aspects of it that I wish could be altered; but for a production which must frame any number of Giselles and Albrechts in a given season, it serves the ballet very well. The second act in particular is redolent of the perfume of the many phenomenal ballerinas who have graced this stage in this immortal role.
While the Abrera debut was the evening's centerpiece, there were many other impressive aspects to the performance. Leann Underwood was a vision in ruby-red as Bathilde, and Misty Copeland and Craig Salstein were on peak form for the Peasant Pas de Deux - I've never seen Craig dance better. Nancy Raffa's mime as Berthe was clear and moving. Thomas Forster was a tall, intense Hilarion with a slightly creepy aspect, though his sincere love for Giselle was never in doubt.
As Myrthe, Veronika Part's plush dancing and Romanov-princess demeanor made her a stellar Myrthe; leaping along the diagonal in a swirl of white tulle, the imperious ballerina seemed gorgeously unassailable. Christine Shevchenko and Stephanie Williams danced beautifully as Moyna and Zulma, and the ABT Wilis, in Part's thrall, won waves of applause for their precise, grace-filled dancing.
Earlier this month I saw Stella Abrera in LES SYLPHIDES. She struck me as ideal in the Romantic style of this Fokine ballet; that performance seems now to have been a prelude to her Giselle. An immensely popular ABT ballerina, Abrera had the audience with her from the moment she opened the door to her cottage; as Giselle, she rushed out into the late-Summer morning full of joy and buoyed by her secret love, unaware that this was to be her last day on Earth.
This Giselle had every reason to trust her Loys, for in Vladimir Shklyarov's portrayal of the young nobleman there was a boyish sincerity and heart-on-sleeve openness that any girl would delight in. Shklyrarov's Albrecht had not thought far enough ahead as to the possible outcome of his village romance; he was genuinely in love and there was no trace of deceit behind his affection. Thus the naive pair saw no impediment to their romance; who knows? Albrecht might even have renounced his inheritance and they lived on together, happily ever after. Hilarion, in discovering the truth, ruins that scenario. Thus it seemed that Shklyarov's Albrecht came to Giselle's grave not as a repentant cad but as a bereft lover whose incautious behavior has destroyed his beloved.
Abrera and Shklyarov both have beautiful, natural smiles, and they could not suppress the happiness of their mutual devotion throughout the early scenes of Act I. Their dancing together was light and airy, and Abrera's solo was the lyric highlight of the first act. Yet whatever happens in Act I, and however moving Giselle's mad scene might be - and Abrera's was truly touching - it's in Act II that the two dancers face the great test of both technical surety and poetic resonance. This evening Abrera and Shklyarov simply soared.
Abrera's Giselle gave all her purity and gentle strength to sustain her beloved throughout his ordeal. There was no way Myrthe could win against this Giselle's steadfastness. In a spectacular pair of overhead lifts, Shklyarov swept Abrera's heavenward with breathtaking steadiness. In his solos, the danseur's leaps and beats drew murmurs of admiration from the many dancers seated around us, and later his endless entrechats had the visual impact of a Joan Sutherland trill. Abrera, pallid and ethereal, danced sublimely. The final parting of the lovers was deeply affecting; cherishing the single flower Abrera had given him, Shkylarov seemed about to depart but in the end, drawn back by the memory of his lost Giselle, he collapsed amid the lilies on her grave.
Standing ovations can seem de rigueur these days, but not this one: the moment the curtains parted on Abrera and Shkylarov standing alone on the vast stage, the audience rose as one and a great swelling of cheers filled the House. Not only do we have a superb 'new' Giselle to cherish - Abrera stands with the finest I have seen in the role - but also a deeply satisfying partnership that we can hope to enjoy frequently in coming seasons.