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By Wendy Perron
5:00 a.m. I just realized I won’t back get to sleep unless I write about Cojocaru’s Giselle. She’s invaded my dreams. She reminded me of Gelsey Kirkland 35 years ago. The little-girl look, the vulnerability, the feeling of a heart exposed.
Cojocaru’s delicate face has a whiff of sadness around the eyes that foreshadows the tragic story. Another thing that foreshadows is her lightness: She is floaty from the first traveling skips. She skims the earth, you hardly see her touch down. When she opens her arms in joy, it’s like her breathing opens up to the sky. You feel her celestial spirit from that first airborne circle.
She doesn’t make anything big or theatrical. Some of her gestures are so small and fast, like when she counts the daisy petals. I guess she relies on our already knowing the story.
I felt myself smiling the whole first part. Such joy in dancing is felt with every skip, every port de bras. And yet she appears so fragile that when she puts her hand on her heart you are convinced of her weakness.
Her presence changed David Hallberg. As Prince Albrecht he made a big entrance with the big music, but when they danced together he softened his body to be as quiet as hers. He, being much taller, bent toward her. I’ve never seen him so attentive. He really let her get under his skin.
I appreciated her technical choices. In the first act, she didn’t do as many hops on pointe as usual and they didn’t cover space. But whenever she came down from being on pointe, she worked through the foot, making a connection between air and earth. As a wili, she only did about three of those big jumps where the whole body folds back. With every developé side, her leg floated up to her ear, and it was part of her spirit self. However, in the couple’s playful scene when they do the coupé jumps front and back, she jacked that leg into a higher arabesque—and for me that was the only flaw.
Her mad scene was minimal, giving us only the merest hints of her memory—the petal-counting, the overhead calling arm. She didn’t try to “act.” When she grabbed his sword, she showed no special fierceness or craziness. But when she covered her mother’s face with her hands the way a blind person would—just feeling for something she knows and trusts—it was heartbreaking. When she finally ran to Albrecht, she didn’t reach high, hold, and then drop. She just crumpled in complete surrender. I don’t know if it projected as powerfully to the balconies as to us in orchestra seats.
Hallberg played it like he was really in love with her. In some interpretations, Albrecht switches his devotion to Bathilde when she reenters and the jig’s up. But Hallberg stayed focused on Giselle, and went dashing out through the crowd when he realized he was to blame for her death. He was the danseur noble throughout, but one with deep feelings. In the super slow pas de deux with her as a wili, he entered her spirit world by allowing his body to sink into every movement. At the end when he walked off with one of the lilies from her grave pressed to his chest, he really wanted to keep her spirit with him.
His 24 entrechats were amazing—his long legs like needles. He threw himself around after that, mouth partially open in exhaustion, hair flying. Her embracing arms gave him strength.
Stella Abrera stepped in as Myrta at the last minute (replacing Gillian Murphy). She was steely and commanding, but you also felt a basic compassion from her. She didn’t force the authority but had a natural majesty. I loved her Myrta. Sarah Lane and Daniil Simkin were radiant in the Peasant Pas de Deux, and Julio Bragado-Young was appropriately nerve-wracked as the squire.
Cojocaru at American Ballet Theatre. Will I dream about her again tonight?
Alina Cojocaru and David Hallberg in Giselle. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy ABT