To generations of American dancers trained to think of themselves as athletes, technical perfection has become synonymous with artistry. Yet "Giselle" is a ballet created before the era of the steel toe and--as two American Ballet Theatre casts demonstrated, Saturday in Shrine Auditorium--the most flawless performances aren't necessarily the best.
At the matinee, Cynthia Harvey danced Giselle with ravishing technique, and her sumptuous command extended to a detailed and apt characterization. Yet deep feeling was missing and, without it, Harvey's performance became merely a checklist of isolated virtues: difficult feats accomplished with precision, taste and style.
In contrast, Marianna Tcherkassky worked harder at the steps on Saturday evening but informed her dancing with such belief that "Giselle" became far more than an exercise or test. Her interpretation seemed no more original in concept than Harvey's, and her level of execution uneven, yet this shy, betrayed innocent could break your heart.
As Harvey's Albrecht, Patrick Bissell compensated for less-than-ideal control in his Act II solo with extraordinary partnering powers and a heroic intensity that Kevin McKenzie could not match opposite Tcherkassky. Yet McKenzie certainly proved a secure, unerring soloist--just as Leslie Browne had been in the afternoon, when she breezed through all the choreographic hazards built into the role of Myrta without shaping them to any effect.
Nora Kimball found Myrta's slow turning steps much more problematic on Saturday evening, but mastered the jumps splendidly and used her slender arms like creepy tendrils in the repeated "dance and die" pantomime commands. A distinctive, magnetic portrayal.
At the same performance, Michael Owen gave Hilarion a compelling sardonic edge and also danced his solos strongly. (Clark Tippet, previously reviewed, returned to the role Saturday afternoon.)
Among subsidiary villagers and nobles, Amanda McKerrow (at the matinee) and Deirdre Carberry (in the evening) added luster to the peasant quartet and Chrisa Keramidas exuded state-of-the-art sophistication as Bathilde on Saturday night. Of the two conductors, Jack Everly (at the matinee) sustained the lyricism of the score more artfully than Alan Barker.