The final moments of Giselle's second act are some of the most hauntingly beautiful in all of ballet: from the pas de deux between Giselle's betrayed spirit and the man she still loves, to the wilis' cold rejection, to Albrecht's heart-wrenching desperation as the curtain closes. The Bolshoi Ballet's late prima ballerina assoluta, Galina Ulanova, is among the most legendary interpreters of the ballet's titular role, admired around the world for her ability to utterly transform into character. Alongside her frequent partner Nikolai Fadeyechev, also a former leading dancer with the Bolshoi, their performance is an offering of sensitivity that stirs us even decades later.


This clip of the ballet's finale, starting from the allegretto section of the pas deux, is from a 1956 performance. (Note: click on the video link above to watch the clip on YouTube). Fadeyechev and Ulanova juxtapose vitality and fragility through their dancing: Fadeyechev bounds above the wilis' heads, while Ulanova flits across the stage, floating as though the wind were carrying her away. With their remarkable dramatic talents, the dancers create the connection between the two characters who are just out of each others' reach, sending their hearts toward one another even as their bodies move in opposite directions. This longing gives the final lift, a simple cradle at 8:21, a gorgeous tenderness. Thankfully, Ulanov and Fadeyechev have passed on their artistic wisdom, both dedicating their post-performance careers to coaching and teaching future generations of dancers. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine

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