Maria Kochetkova did not disappoint in San Francisco Ballet’s “Giselle” last night. Yes, she is tiny, porcelain-skinned, and feather light, but the key to her interpretation was this: You could see how much trust she was putting in her Albrecht, and just how dangerous and exhilarating that trust was. When Albrecht sat on the bench next to her, when she counted out the “he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not” flower petals–none of this happened with a coy flutter of lashes, but instead with swallows of fear. Even little passages like the series of piques where she kisses her fingers and they touch hands became not mere flirtations, but tests–can I trust you?–followed by not just romantic elation, but relief. Her Albrecht Joan Boada nuzzled her like a kitten he’d taken in from the cold, while in his rakish excitement we saw the mounting danger, that he did not realize the magnitude of sin he was committing in toying with such a delicate soul.

The first act was pure drama, and rightly so, Kochetkova’s technique unostentatious–even her fleet jumps seemed an expression of Giselle’s irrepressible joy in dancing, not feats for their own sake. Surprisingly, Kochetkova does not have a huge arabesque penchee to dazzle us with, but in the second act, she called on that buoyant jump again, a benevolent wisp in the air on that series of changements with one foot in coupe. Meanwhile, Boada was in good form with beautiful feet and a stretch that reaches well beyond his small proportions. He was an extravagantly penitent Albrecht, replacing the fluttering beaten jumps that so pierced the heart in Tiit Helimets’ interpretation with an odd run of frenzied brisees.

The final moments were telling. In Yuan Yuan Tan’s performance, as Giselle sunk back into the grave, Tan lolled her head as though to protest leaving him, almost like Odette in the second act of “Swan Lake.” In Kochetkova’s final moments, she gazed upon Albrecht lovingly, but she did not shake in protest of their separation. She accepted it–and everything: his betrayal of her, his penitence. This was not a tragic final parting, but a bittersweet one. It seemed to me perfectly in character. And it made this performance of “Giselle” one I will never forget.

Kochetkova and Boada will dance “Giselle” again Saturday evening. I’ll be back at the opera house on Friday to see Vanessa Zahorian and Ruben Martin.

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