Some years ago Julio Bocca startled the ballet world when he announced that he would stop his dancer´s career on his 40th birthday. He was as good as his word, and thus we were bereft of our greatest male dancer; but he wanted to depart in full glory, and he did. Now our most famous female dancer, Paloma Herrera, has made a similar promise. And as she is a very serious artist, I assume that she will keep it. She too has said that she wants to say goodbye whilst her means are still at their best. It is a wise though hard decision.
She is now 38, months away from her 39th Birthday. When this ballet season was sold, the Colón gave what seemed great news: the revival after 17 years of the marvelous Kenneth MacMillan choreography of Prokofiev´s "Romeo and Juliet", to my mind the best long ballet music of the Twentieth Century. I, as so many others, relished the idea. But...with no explanation whatsoever (as usual) the Colón eliminated it and programmed that eternal substitute, "Giselle". Thus we also lost the memorable stage and costume designs of "Romeo..." by Nicholas Georgiadis. It was a deep disappointment, for it cancelled the most important presentation of the year.
Mind you, I´m not disparaging "Giselle". It is the most emblematic Romantic ballet (there aren´t many that have survived) and a good performance of it should be a staple of any big company over the years. But some years ago we were left without Nureyev´s marvelous "Nutcracker" because of a silly row with the choreographer´s representatives and again the replacement was "Giselle". It simply isn´t elegant behavior.
Paloma is mediatic and of course the house was full; even the City´s Chief of Cabinet, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, was present. For many, unfortunately, it´s irrelevant whether she dances Juliet or Giselle; they go to see her. We missed an interesting dialogue between artistic genders: for in these weeks we will see Shakespeare´s original at the Teatro Regio and Gounod´s opera at the Avenida (Buenos Aires Lírica).
It´s a curious thing that in ballet the periods aren´t the same as in music: Classicism in the latter is the time of Mozart, in dance it´s the great era of Petipa in Russia during the second half of the XIXth Century. But they do coincide in the Romantic period: "Giselle" is contemporary with Schumann.
The music by Adolphe Adam was written in just a week and is an accomplished piece according to the style of those times: it was premièred in June 1841. There was at least one important predecessor: choreographer Filippo Taglioni´s "La Sylphide" (1832), admired here in the reconstruction made by Pierre Lacotte and danced by the ethereal Ghislaine Thesmar. In both cases there are two acts: the first is basically realistic, the second fantastic. And there was a curious anticipation in a "grand´opéra" by Meyerbeer, "Robert le Diable" (1831), in that creepy scene where the dead nuns come alive and dance.
The plot was concocted by several hands: the ultra-Romantic Téophile Gautier, the vaudeville author Jules Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean Coralli, "maître de ballet" at the Paris Opera. The original choreographers were Coralli and Jules Perrot. But when decades later it was revived in Russia by Marius Petipa, he added several fragments (with music by Drigo and Minkus). From the very beginning, a "Pas paysan" was added with music by Burgmüller. This checkered history is common to many old ballets.
Lidia Segni was in charge of this revival based on the three mentioned choreographers, and she has staged it before, at Montevideo, La Plata and Bahía Blanca. She is very knowledgeable on the matter, and her version is traditional and true. I have often seen the versions by Alicia Alonso (shown here in 1958 and revived often) and Gustavo Mollajoli (1984), also danced frequently, and remember such great interpreters of Giselle as Carla Fracci, Olga Ferri and Silvia Bazilis.
Paloma´s has been a star for decades at no less than the American Ballet Theatre but has kept contact with the Colón. Her Giselle was admirable both in the perfection of her dancing and the contrast between the fragile girl in love of the First Act and the willi of the Second (willis: avenging nocturnal spirits of the maids that die from unrequited love before their wedding), ethereal but finally sensitive to the repentance of her Albrecht. She wasn´t as personal or intense as some other dancers, especially Fracci, but this was the work of an authentic star.
She was ably partnered by Juan Pablo Ledo, probably our best current dancer of the Colón Ballet (internationally it would be Herman Cornejo). Others who did a good job were Vagram Ambartsoumian as Hilarion the vengeful forester, Paula Cassano as Myrtha, Queen of the Willis, Fabrizio Coppo as Duke Albrecht´s squire and Miriam Barroso as Berthe (Giselle´s mother). The Pas Paysan was danced with young talent by Maximiliano Igleasias and less brilliantly by Carla Vincelli.
The beauty of "ballet blanc" bloomed in the Second Act with the Willis in immaculate white, dancing with poise and discipline.
Pluses were, of course, the beautiful stage and costume designs by Nicola Benois and the fine lighting by Rubén Conde. And the playing by the Buenos Aires Philharmonic under Swiss conductor Emmanuel Siffert was mostly quite good, apart from some minor slips.
For Buenos Aires Herald