EDITORIAL – A confession about ballerina Lorena Feijóo

By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Lorena Feijóo’s performance as “Giselle” this past Friday night with San Francisco Ballet was a dream come true. Since the filming of my 2008 interview with her when she was scheduled to dance the role but then suffered a sprain, I have been suspended in a state of anxiousness and overwhelming desire. The pangs are all about the extremely rare opportunity to see the greatest Classical ballerina of our time dance the role for which she was created. That and “Kitri” in Don Quixote, the dual roles of “Odette/Odile” in Swan Lake, along with definitive performances in Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet, and her dazzling appearance in the world premiere of Yuri Possokhov’s TALK TO HER (hable con ella) at the Gala Opening. Brazilian-born Vitor Luiz – a brilliant member of the Company since 2009 – was her co-star that night and her “Prince Albrecht” in Giselle. Their partnering reaches the Extraordinary, creating a perfect harmony of skill, artistry, and chemistry. Their final performance will be the matinee on Sunday, February 13th.

Photos, David Allen

Adolph Adam’s Giselle premiered in Paris in 1841. The plot is driven by a profound sense of longing. The depths of its beauty and spiritual unrest run parallel to the elements in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. In his recent book, Cuban Ballet, Octavio Roca provides an exquisite account of the preservation and development of Giselle through legendary dancer Alicia Alonso and her Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Because of her associations with choreographers George Balanchine and Anthony Tudor – in particular, Tudor’s stress on method acting – Alonso married the strictness and absolute athleticism of classical dance with its relationship to the internal (or dramatic) realization of a character’s psychological underpinnings. “He [Tudor] was the greatest poet of modern ballet,” says Rocca. “Tudor’s genius lay in his complete absorption of classical technique into the fabric of human psychology, lessons Alonso and her Cuban dancers and choreographers have absorbed and transformed over decades.” Referring to Tudor’s working with Alonso in his Romeo and Juliet – including allowing her to choreograph key moments that would maximize her realization of the tragic heroine – Rocca goes on to say, “He drilled her on such puzzling exercises as arabesques of joy followed by arabesques of sorrow. Not everyone took to these subtleties in what some still view as simple ballet steps, but when the dancer and choreographer breathed the same air, the results were spectacular.” It was Tudor who taught Alonso the role of Giselle. Born in Havana, Lorena Feijóo studied with and performed under the direction of Alicia Alonso at the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Today, it is international star Lorena Feijóo who embodies this knowledge, truth and wherewithal of one of the most demanding roles in the Classical repertoire.

LORENA FEIJÓO – as “Giselle”
Photo, Erik Tomasson

LORENA FEIJÓO (Giselle) with TIIT HELIMETS (Albrecht)
SF Ballet Gala Opening, 2008. Act II, Pas de deux, Giselle,
Photo, Erik Tomasson

During our interview [see, LORENA FEIJÓO – A Conversation], she offered insights as to how the early training and discipline effects her portrayal of Giselle. As the song suggests, “Every little movement has a meaning all its own.” But it’s what separates the genius and totality of her work from that of other dancers.

“Giselle belongs to the Romantic period,” she said, “so there is this sense that the torso has to be a little bit forward and the arms a bit rounder. If you go to photographs of that era, the women are in corsets that did not allow them to be straight. All of the positions were very round. There was not a lot of length, if you will. It’s very characteristic of “Giselle” to be very forward – which is one of the things I was very well taught. I had the fortune to incorporate this when I was very young, because I studied the role in Cuba. Just seeing Alicia Alonzo and all the prima ballerinas do this role, you are visually fed. You learn a lot from that. So, when I came here, it took a while for me to explain to the other dancers that this is what was missing. It is so important. It’s what separates Giselle from Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and all other classical ballets. For example, if you are in a pose – your head anticipates the movement. If you are going to do a piqué arabesque – the head starts here and then the rest of the body follows. It gives an illusion of slow motion. Little things like that. Giselle should never be straight, not even in the first Act when she is being a young girl. In Cuba, my goal was to learn these aspects. But, at this point, over there – I feel we’ve gotten a little bit passé or démodé. When you see the company, they’ve gotten a little bit stuck on the old, old times. So, for the ballerinas in the first act, I feel that it’s not as fresh as it should be. It’s too studied, too careful. You lose the sense of naiveté, the freshness of being a girl. It takes a really great artist to be able to mix both of them – to be really able to keep the tradition of the torso forward and the roundness of the forms and the shape of the arms. The delicate aspects of Giselle. Even when doing the mimes – the forward position of the body, doing the inquiry. It’s accenting the period where women were not just straight; wearing clothes that forced them to be kept forward. That adds to the delicate feeling of her. But also to find that you cannot pose in every moment. For example, sitting on the bench with Albrecht – you have to be vulnerable. She’s a 15-year-old girl. It was a great experience for me to come and see Alexandra Ferri and others portray the first Act where they were more natural. So, you have to be a true artist and have a knowledge of the ballet. You have to find the right combination, the right amount of ingredients to make it look like what it is.”

Tomasson’s Swan Lake, 2009.
Photo, Erik Tomasson

Lorena Feijóo’s radiant beauty and pulsating charisma commands immediate and undivided attention from her international audiences. As with the list of Prince Charmings her characters toy with or leave behind, I am likewise swept up into an air of longing that will haunt the remainder of my days. Lorena Feijóo is well-established in the pantheon of the world’s greatest ballerinas. She is Art personified.

—— Seán Martinfield, 7 February 2011

See YouTube with Lorena Feijóo and Sean Martinfield, February 2008:

Click on the photo to order Octavio Roca’s Cuban Ballet:

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.


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