In the late 1950s and 60s, Italian ballerina Carla Fracci won the world over with her definitive interpretations of romantic ballets like La Sylphide, La Sonnambula, and, of course, Giselle. At just 22 years old, she left her home stage at La Scala in Milan to begin guesting internationally, eventually forming a famous partnership with the dashing danseur Erik Bruhn at American Ballet Theatre. The two appear together in this film of ABT's Giselle, in which Fracci's Act I variation is as near to perfection as any Giselle before or after.
Aside from the video's faded colors, this performance hardly looks like it was filmed 50 years ago. Fracci's aesthetic is distinctly modern, with her long lines and quick turns. She abandoned the softer, wilted look that had previously defined the Romantic idiom, conveying Giselle's gentleness through delicate but dynamic movement. The phrase at 0:32 captures the essence of her style: She steps onto pointe and beats her foot with the utmost care, but then flips her back into a joyous renversé. Her attitude pirouettes are elevated and brilliant, but then she stops her turns on a dime to float into fondu. As she hops across the stage on pointe, Fracci keeps her port de bras low and simple, indicating Giselle's natural humility. She also makes the challenging sequence seem like a stroll through the park.
In a 1981 New York Times article Fracci discussed her artistic approach: "When on the stage, I somehow discover a new facet of the character I'm dancing and I try very hard to express it to the audience." This conviction is clearly the source of the ballerina's beaming smile as she pirouettes with startling speed during the variation's final diagonal. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!