Perfection is a dangerous word, especially when applied to a subjectively perceived art like ballet. But I have no doubt that it applies to ABT‘s Giselle as performed by Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes on May 27. These two artists have worked together many times in different roles, so a bit of complacency might be expected. On the contrary, they seemed to inspire one another to reach deeper into their characters, tapping their formidable technical and artistic skills. As their roles dictate, they united in spirit, and worked together physically as one. When he partnered her in a series of bounding lifts, it was impossible to tell whether she was aloft or standing. Gomes has long been the company’s finest partner (you may recall me using the term “Gomes bump,” a guaranteed increase in duet quality for any lucky ballerina), but here, he surpassed previous performances with an attentiveness, and framing of, Vishneva. How he manages to essentially reflect and illuminate her while commanding the stage space himself is one of the great, euphoric mysteries of this dancer.
Vishneva quite literally embodies the essential Giselle, with her girlish proportions, long brown hair, and vulnerable expression. Her renditions of Giselle’s famous “wilted arabesque” pose is picture perfect. The mutual trust and familiarity between the two no doubt fosters a more profound, responsive performance that was clearly felt by the audience. And of all things to stand out, Gomes’ downstage-bounding series of entrechats six would be least expected. But he took this fairly quotidian, skill-test step and rendered them crisply and with increasing urgency. And he added deeply pliant back arches in his landings, a dramatic flair that signified his willingness to do anything for Giselle, and for us.
Another cast—Hee Seo and David Hallberg, on June 1—displayed a different version of perfection. Both have long, elegant, stunning lines, with dreamy arches and feet. The performance was serene, poetic, often breathtaking in its beauty. Seo has a crystalline fragility (is it cautiousness?) but this young soloist can only gain in expressivity with more experience in lead roles. And as for Hallberg, I’ve basically run out of superlatives, and can only note how lucky we are to be watching both he and Gomes at the same time (and Hallberg’s entrechats six were similarly superb). And an occasion to note, if only once in the hopes that it isn’t anomalous—three of the four female leads were danced by Asians (Stella Abrera as Myrtha, and Yuriko Kajiya as one of her sidekicks), which I can’t recall seeing at ABT. When old chestnuts are given sublime performances like these, it is a rare, appreciated gift.