Who was Olga Spessivtseva?

Olga Spessivtseva (1895 – 1991) was the quintessence of a Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet romantic ballerina whom George Balanchine famously called “a beautiful diamond, cool, distant, and perfect.” The legendary Russian ballerina, who died in the United States, is the subject of choreographer Boris Eifman’s full-evening work, Red Giselle, coming soon to Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

Spessivtseva’s [spe-SIV-tsi-va] life and her descent into madness is the intriguing subject of Eifman’s cleverly titled “Red Giselle.” “Giselle,” a role highly identified with Spessivtseva, is foremost in the canon of 19th Century ‘white ballets.’ So a shellacking in red indicates a lotta stuff gone wrong. Intrigue! Eifman’s work is performed to music by Tchaikovsky, Schnittke, Bizet, and of course Adolphe Adam, composer of the ditzy but beloved original score for “Giselle.”

To prep ourselves for “Red Giselle,” let’s look at this wonderful youtube compilation of five famous progenitors of the role of Giselle, Spessivtzeva first among them (in the video).

A touchstone is Anna Kisselgoff’s glowing review of “Red Giselle” in the New York Times dating from 1999. Kisselgoff calls the work “highly dramatic and theatrical … a perfected narrative ballet.”

The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, celebrating its 40th anniversary, also visits the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in June, bringing the choreographer’s “Tchaikovsky” as a featured presentation of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center (June 23 – 25).

Red Giselle | Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Orange County | June 16 – 18

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