American Ballet Theatre’s return to Lincoln Center stage was a homecoming for the New York-based touring company with Giselle in all of its technical wonder, timeless style, and haunting forgiveness. Giselle is easily the most romantically classical ballet ABT performs in its repertoire and it felt eerie to have the tragic ballet mark the company’s return to the stage after the pandemic.
Skylar Brandt, stunningly weightless and evocatively ethereal, swept the audience away in her New York premiere in the title role of Giselle.
Before the rising star was promoted to principal dancer over the pandemic, she made her lead debut when the company was on tour with the production at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. in February 2020. A few hours before her 2021 Lincoln Center debut, Brandt posted in response to ABT’s Instagram post teasing her debut,
“My heart might just explode,”
and I do believe mine did with her performance, which was notably stronger in Act II.
Brandt, 28, spent countless hours of rehearsal perfecting every detail of the ballet: stylistically, technically, and embodying the character, all of which she is never shy to share on her Instagram stories.
The star stunned in her undeniably old-school approach to the character. Small choices gave nods to her artistic decision to adapt a meek, shy, and demure interpretation of the young, innocent Giselle. Brandt always stood with her torso slightly pitched forward and during Giselle’s iconic Act I solo she held her skirt in one hand to keep it afloat as she careened around the stage in the manège.
Throughout Act II, her extensions remained modest, all of the penchés and arabesques tastefully below 180 or 90 degrees.
Technically, Brandt wowed the audience, which was hardly a surprise. Her hops en pointe in the classic Act I diagonal were spectacularly light as she impressively traversed the entire diagonal of the stage.
Giselle’s entrance as a Willi in Act II is the most notorious 30 second passage in ballet repertoire, as after hopping on one leg while spinning at lightning speed, the ballerina then has to execute a series of lofty jumps on a straight diagonal to finish in a hovering balance in arabesque en pointe.
Brandt did not only spin at a breathtaking speed, but she also managed to defy all physics by cutting her momentum to pull up onto pointe to float a controlled, single attitude turn that made ballet enthusiasts scatter applause mid-solo. Her jumps were buoyant and her port des bras absolutely flawless.
Brandt’s arms were positioned a little farther back in the second act than the in the first. The longer lines flattered her small frame and added to the sensation that she was always floating.