La Scalla Ballet – 2001

July 18, 2001

La Scala Ballet

New York State Theater
New York, New York

July 18?22, 2001

Reviewed by Doris Hering

As a child, I often browsed through my grandfather’s tomes of European genre paintings. The pictures fascinated me because they told stories. Eventually the fascination faded, for they told me too much and evoked too little. They were prose masquerading as painting.

Ballerina Sylvia Guillem’s new version of Giselle, which headed La Scala Ballet’s season at the Lincoln Center Festival, was an exercise in genre. Especially in the first act, Guillem told, rather than evoking, the fate of its heroine. Prose masqueraded as dance.

Guillem is a brilliant performer. Her forte is a powerful, plunging energy, fiery in its force. If she were an actress, she would be a Bernhard, not a Duse.

She arranged the first act of Giselle around these traits, and designer Paul Brown accentuated them with a stout concrete wall that moved ominously about, dividing the stage sometimes horizontally, sometimes diagonally. The determined realism was further accentuated by villagers stomping on grapes in a high vat, falling down drunk under a table, or freezing into tableaux more operatic than balletic.

Yes, Giselle and her suitor, Albrecht, met, flirted, and danced. But the continuity of their encounter was so fragmented that it bordered on the casual.

Guillem’s recension of this most affecting of Romantic ballets took a more convincing turn in the second act. Instead of adhering to the usual symmetrical patterns for the Wilis, she kept them involved, sometimes diving them into four clusters instead of two, and when they were not involved, draping them somewhat like the figures in a Watteau landscape.

The second act pas de deux for Giselle and Albrecht is one of the most unique structures in Romantic ballet. Instead of being a set piece, it weaves in and out of the entire act. Guillem has immolated this continuity, and the dance has lost its magic.

Genre-realism also pervaded, or perhaps invaded, the second La Scala program. It was headed by Luciano Cannito’s Amarcord, inspired by the Fellini film.

To simulate a crowded village square, designer Carlo Sala festooned the sides and back of the stage with a throng of life-sized puppets. Their effect was striking initially, but eventually it diverted one’s attention from the world of a lower middle-class adolescent enamored of a young woman, who gives herself to a German officer.

The scenes, laid in Fascist Italy, followed one another with the staccato pacing of commercial television. At times, the characters, led by Mauricio Licitra as the boy and Sabrina Brazzo as his love, seemed as unreal as the puppets surrounding them.

It was nostalgic fun to see Roland Petit’s Carmen again. This production, headed by Viviana Durante and Massimo Murru, lacked the dash that Zizi Jeanmaire and Roland Petit brought to the original, and yet the ballet retained its vibrantly innocent charm.

The Scala principals (Durante, Guillem, Murru, and Laurent Hilaire, who was unable to dance) were guests. How about the remainder of this sixty six member ensemble, whose history and repertoire dates back to the eighteenth century. The dance is cruel. Its companies are only as effective as their current artistic directors. Frederic Olivieri assumed this role in July, the same month that La Scala came to New York. It was clear that a distinct artistic vision is not yet in place.