In a flight of puffy optimism, American Ballet heralded the "Giselle" introduced to a breathless world Friday at Shrine Auditorium as a "new production."
New? Well. . . .
The cramped, archaic sets, created by Gianni Quaranta for a forthcoming Herbert Ross film, are new.
They don't look new. They look like quaint relics from the ever-so-distant past. A badly lit, autumnal jungle of canvas foliage surrounds a cute cyclorama castle in Act I. A badly lit forest jumble surrounds a strange, hollowed-out tree trunk in Act II. Perhaps the movie will explain the significance of the tree; its mysterious entrance remains unused here.
There is one new prop, and it is disastrously funny. When Giselle returns as a Wili, she materializes--and later retreats to oblivion--plastered to the rear side of a large revolving cross that marks her grave. Repeat: revolving cross.
The generally traditional costumes, designed by Anna Anni, are new. The peasant girls don uniform dresses, their bucolic swains sport Brueghelesque finery.
Giselle is apparently attracted to the disguised Albrecht because of his rugged individuality. He is, after all, the only man on the stage who doesn't wear a hat.
Hilarion, the once-nasty, once-rustic gamekeeper, demonstrates delusions of sartorial grandeur, his chic cap adorned with a pompous plume. It must be very significant.
The feeble and primitive sounds, feebly played by the pit band under Jack Everly, seem vaguely new. Contrary to information in the program, the company seems to have reverted to some semblance of Adam's original orchestration.
But these are relatively trivial points. The most crucial elements in this "Giselle"--the choreographic focus, the staging scheme, the stylistic and philosophical perspective--are all too familiar.
This is still a strange distortion of the basic David Blair production, first seen in 1968 and subsequently revised, simplified, muddled and befuddled by Mikhail Baryshnikov with a little help from Elena Tchernichova, John Taras and badness knows who else.
Forget about clarification, about rethinking, about establishing a consistent expressive accent. The only surprising element here involves omission rather than commission: the peasant pas de deux in Act I--last incarnated as a pas de quatre--now has been abandoned altogether.
The "new" production may have stirred excitement at the stellar kiddies' matinee on Saturday, at which Baryshnikov himself chose to make his oddly timed seasonal debut. (See Lewis Segal's accompanying report.) At the would-be gala opening performance, one had to be grateful for polish and competence where one had hoped for inspiration.
Marianna Tcherkassky is still a lovely, tasteful, technically almost impeccable Giselle. She does everything right, as far as she goes.
She conveys decent degrees of innocent rapture at her entrance, blows convincing kisses at her perfidious lover, goes prettily mad, sustains a delicate balance of ethereal calm and feverish bravura during the trials of Wilidom. Tiny, tender and intelligent, she has conquered all the surface hurdles.
Her performance still emerges small-scale, however, and somewhat bland. One admires her constantly and waits in vain for a flash of individuality, for the special insights of character and telling dramatic details that illuminate tragedy.
Under the circumstances, she is well partnered by Kevin McKenzie's tall, deft, sympathetic, potentially noble, ultimately unmemorable Albrecht. These two often make one want to applaud. They seldom make one want to cry.
In many ways, the most compelling of the principals on Friday was Susan Jaffe, who brought uncommon strength, whispering feet, willowy abandon and a rather spectacular jump to the formidable duties of Myrta.
Michael Owen, a standard-brand Hilarion, led a generally strong supporting cast. The ghostly corps in white tutus showed welcome gains in suavity.
As a contextually unnecessary curtain-raiser, the company introduced "Enough Said," the first ballet of Clark Tippet. Once a decent leading danseur, later an interesting caractere specialist and now a choreographer of exceptional promise, he uses--and sometimes ignores--a thorny score by George Perle for a brash exercise in athletic semi-abstraction.
It enlists a sleek and lithe Nora Kimball, a lean and muscular Robert Hill, three secondary boys and three secondary girls in an ingenious network of sex-war games. Tippet demands a lot of quirky virtuosity, a lot of leaping and catching, entwining and separating, pushing and shoving, before his should-be lovers reach the uneasy truce of a cadential handshake.
The vocabulary spans Robbins and Tharp, but the use of the language is original. Also clever.
Giorgio Sant'Angelo contributed the bizarre costumes: leotards adorned with strategically placed, wildly colored patches.