Oyster and Giselle
SPOLETO’S LAST ACT. The final two dance offerings for Spoleto Festival USA were about as different as they could be, showing the wonderful contrast that the festival organizers are so adept at presenting, as well as the range that dance covers, from a 200-year-old classic to something completely new.
In Oyster, the talents of collaborators Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollack, both from Israel, come together in an hour-long work where theater, modern dance, and circus acts blend together in a wonderful wash of the absurd. The pretext of circus and side show strangely unfolds in a non-narrative way with vignettes and an array of sound and music. Extraordinary costumes, wigs, makeup, and set design create a level of theater where dreams and caricature mix together to create a whimsical delight.
The dancers do an exceptional job with the unique style of movement which at times gesticulates in a Chaplin or Busby Berkeley fashion. As a sextet of clowns, the dancers move in mysterious ways completely inorganic to the usual. Inspired, too, by a Tim Burton story, his characters come to life as do those imagined by Dr. Seuss.
Self-manipulated female marionettes dance with deadpan faces moving with extended lines that break down to angular shapes. Trapeze dancers hang by ropes and perform a duet with their earth bound partners. By the end of the dance, they leap and land, becoming church bells ringing.
The emcees of the acts are a frightening pair of Siamese twins, their minion/love interest and a ghoulish maid that is a direct relative of the Adams Family. Within their theatrical moments is when emotion and personalities emerge. Are these freaks that are trapped in their strange world where normal sadness, anger, violence and love still exist? By the end of the ride what becomes clear is that there is indeed beauty in the bizarre.
THE FOLLOWING EVENING, in a ballet where another altered reality exists, Giselle was performed by the National Ballet of Georgia with the star role danced by prima ballerina, Nina Ananiashvili.
Giselle is the epitome of the romantic ballet which tells the story of a spirited but weak hearted peasant girl who falls for a guy who neglects to inform her that he is a prince and engaged to a fellow noblewoman. This news is more than the simple Giselle can bear, and she goes mad and dies of a broken heart. This all happens along with a Bacchus Festival and much processing of the prince’s hunting party in the insubstantial first act of the ballet whose action moves along with archaic pantomime and a classical ballet formula. The performers execute the dancing and storytelling with great dignity and virtuosic dancing, but it is not until the moonlit, leaden second act that their true talents unfold.
After Giselle has died, she joins the population of Wilis who are ghosts of women dead from broken hearts and promises. In the forest under the moon until sun’s first light, they dance their victims to death.
Prince Albrecht is danced by Irakli Bakhtadze with great command of the role. His length, suspension in the air, and landings are evidence only of a first rate technician. In his duet with Giselle, his lifts demonstrate the essential ethereal and weightlessness for romantic ballet. George Balanchine said that, “to be romantic about something is to see what you are and to wish for something entirely different. This requires magic.” That magic created by both Ms. Ananiashvili and her partner was most evident.
Ms. Ananiashvili is at her best as the gossamer coated ghost of herself. Her dancing is not only perfection but breathtaking. Her arms move in untranslatable ways that orchestrate the emotional energy that spins around her body. Her precise point work never wavers and the strength of her limbs, though showing languid lightness, are as resilient as steel.
My favorite part of the ballet is when the ensemble weaves through its 30 members in alternating sautéing arabesques. Their long white tutus billow with a grace that produces an effect which takes you out of this world.