Lapses in concentration, forced boyishness, faked emotionalism--does this sound like a Mikhail Baryshnikov performance? It shouldn't, but Baryshnikov's Albrecht, Saturday afternoon in the American Ballet Theatre "Giselle," had surprisingly little conviction.
Disappointing--and puzzling. Was this merely an off day? Had Baryshnikov lost interest in the role? Or had his duties as an artistic director, a movie star and a perfume mogul stolen energies that should have belonged to the stage?
To be sure, Baryshnikov danced superbly, with far greater ease and technical brilliance than in his performance here a year ago. But this time, he seemed to be waiting for inspiration in some of the most celebrated dramatic passages: the last moment of the ballet, for instance, which he left strangely undefined where, in the past, he had been overwhelming, whether discarding lilies or merely walking.
Elsewhere, Baryshnikov attempted melodramatic effects whether or not they were suitable. After Giselle's death, for example, Berthe (Kathleen Moore) gave Albrecht a little push to get rid of him, but Baryshnikov reeled away as if violently shoved. His rapport with his Giselle--Amanda McKerrow--also proved fitful, though he partnered her smoothly.
In her debut as Giselle, McKerrow danced with her characteristic, always remarkable delicacy and lightness, though certain of her turns and extensions in Act II looked uncharacteristically overcautious and even mechanical.
McKerrow played shyness excellently and got through her wide-eyed, broken-doll Mad Scene capably enough. But nothing in her performance as the living Giselle suggested enough depth of feeling toward Albrecht to make her devotion to him beyond the grave dramatically plausible.
Against this pretty cipher of a Giselle and her curiously prosaic Albrecht, Victor Barbee's hot, forceful Hilarion emerged as a fully rounded, magnetic character.
Saturday night, another Ballet Theatre principal made a promising debut as Giselle opposite a familiar Albrecht. But where McKerrow floated dreamily through space, Leslie Browne pierced it, bringing urgency and purpose to the role.
Although Browne sometimes broke technical challenges into little isolated pieces, her assured, stylish dancing generally had the same passion as her acting. Those involuntary backward turns after Myrta pulled her from the dead--and her soaring jump later on--were especially fine. However, Browne hadn't yet found ways of giving her performance the full Romantic scale that would project its many virtues compellingly.
Although Patrick Bissell's characterization of Albrecht has deepened over the years, this is not a role that appears to release anything in him--as Solor in "La Bayadere" arguably does. He danced it reliably on Saturday, partnering strongly and delivering an intelligent, sincere portrayal. But the fires that have made him into a uniquely heroic American dancer remained unlit.
Though she danced neatly, Carla Stallings made a pouty, schoolmarmish Myrta. Jack Everly conducted for both casts.
Fashion notes: McKerrow's blue dress in the first act differed markedly in hue and pattern from Browne's, and both of the tops worn by Baryshnikov (one eggshell, one black) belonged to some other historical period than Bissell's (one tan, one wine). Reportedly, little of this apparel came from Anna Ani, credited with costumes for the new Ballet Theatre physical production.