Diabolical Angels

Happy Birthday, Dear Paul

As Albrecht, Sergei Filin presents a fine, ardent profile and immaculate technique. But he dances passion cautiously, as if afraid it might disarrange his coiffure. Anyway, in this version, he has acquired a serious dance rival: Giselle's rustic suitor Hilarion (I saw Alexander Petukhov), who tosses off bravura passages with a character-dance recklessness and dives to his death in the lake with a sideways gainer. Some of Vasiliev's "improvements" have their drawbacks. Wanting to show off his cadre of soloists, Vasiliev substitutes a sparkling classical divertissement for four men and four women in place of the usual "Peasant Pas de Deux," but has Bathilde and her father, the Count, withdraw into Giselle's cottage, so that the only spectators of all this virtuosity (besides us) are the happy harvesters.

The set and costumes are less impressive than the dancing. Sergei Barkhin's odd village fantasy evokes Soviet-era thinking; these peasants inhabit hovels (how do they manage to afford pointe shoes?), and his split-personality forest has hanging lights and foliage like doilies. Hubert de Givenchy (!) comes up with such excesses as a lemon yellow suit with lots of red trim for Albrecht's squire. But under Alexander Sotnikov, the New York City Opera Orchestra makes Adolphe Adam's lovely score sound fresh again.

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