Giselle American Ballet Theatre Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
As one of the most brilliant jewels from Ballet’s Romantic era, Giselle still manages to illuminate a deep spiritual impression on audiences today.
Diana Vishneva, the quintessential Russian-trained ballerina, possessing beautiful, clean, and effortless artistry; paired by the very astute and accomplished, Marcelo Gomez, take us on a fantastical journey of newfound love, the pathos of betrayal and death, to a sublime and ethereal reconciliation and transporting forgiveness.
In Act 1, the philandering Count Albrecht, disguised as a peasant, Loys, seduces the young, innocent Giselle while on a hunting party. At the same time, Count Albrecht is already engaged to Balthilde, the Prince of Courland’s daughter.
During the Middle Ages, in a Rhineland village, the peasants are celebrating the wine harvest. Giselle, fragile and shy, reluctantly joins the festivities, dances tentatively with Albrecht, and both are smitten. Hilarion, the gamekeeper, also in love with Giselle, but unnoticed by her, suspects Albrecht’s identity. He intervenes, declares his love, but is dismissed. Hilarion then finds Albrecht’s sword and hunting horn nearby, and tries to warn Giselle. The hunting party arrives, Albrecht hides, and drinks are offered to the distinguished royal guests. Bathilde (Kristi Boone) finds Giselle sweet and charming, and they share their joys of being in love; she offers Giselle her necklace as a token of their bond. The party departs to good cheer, and the villagers crown Giselle, queen of the wine harvest, as all dance and celebrate. Giselle’s mother warns her not to dance too much in her fragile state, and has a dark vision of Wilis, unmarried spirits, or shades, who roam the forests at night, dancing men to their death.
Choreorographically, Act 1 serves more as a narrative or exposition, than a vehicle for displays of dance. Villagers enter, and depart, a few gambols, and much pantomime from the main characters. The classic pas from Giselle solos, however, are textbook ballet moves, simple, and performed with vulnerability and precision by Vishneva. With Albrecht, they softly enfold, while Gomez shows powerful restraint, as he tenderly woos Giselle. However, the total effect is somewhat confused and muddled, with certain inertness in terms of dance. The story must be told, and the divertissements are kept to a minimum. The “Pas de duex des Juenes Paysans,” or Peasant Pas de Duex, is an exception, danced brightly by Maria Riccetto and Jared Matthews, but can seem a bit out of place, more formal than pastoral. But as we see, the table is being meticulously set for what eventually ensues. In a ballet, conceived with original choreography, libretto and music, all elements seem to be dealt with balance. One notices, for instance, the musical leitmotivs for each character–when certain measures are played, you are aware that Hilarion is nearby. But for the most part, Act 1 serves as prologue to the meat of Act 11.
Hilarion, accusing Albrecht of duplicity in front of all, blows Albrecht’s horn, and a retort is heard far off. As the royal hunting party reenters, they greet Albrecht. Bathilde makes it known they are betrothed. Then, in perhaps of all of Ballet’s most heart-rending moments, Giselle is gradually struck with the crushing awareness of her fate, and is overcome with confusion, grief, and despair. As she becomes undone, she spins around the stage in an otherworldly madness, hair disheveled, dragging Albrecht’s sword, and dies of a broken heart.
Act 11 opens as Hilarion visits Giselle’s grave in the forest to place a cross. All is dark and mysterious, as the Wilis, appear from their graves and weave across the forest floor, leaping quickly and again dissolving into the trees. As Hilarion becomes aware of their presence, they surround him, and at the behest of the Queen of the Wilis, Myrta (Veronika Part), they proceed to dance him to death. There is no escape.
Later, Albrecht arrives bearing an armful of lilies, and places them on Giselle’s grave. In his grief, he senses an ethereal glimpse of Giselle as a brief, gauzy apparition in the dark night, and it befuddles his soul. He imagines himself dancing with Giselle once again, and she seems to appear and disappear in his imagination. As he muses, she is transformed, as in a dream, and they dance together tenderly.
Giselle, dressed in white, is to be initiated into her sisterhood that evening. And while they dance in a sweet adagio, with small lifts and delicate carries, Vishneva is perfection in her control, beautiful line, and expressive quality, filled with love and forgiveness.
The ballet, Giselle, is a study of juxtapositions. We have the brightest sunlight– darkest night; festive celebration– mournful despair; overflowing love–bitter betrayal; total loss–deepest redemption. All of these elements create an artistic flight of emotions that is quite stunning.
The Wilis once again appear and are ordered by Myrta to dance Albrecht to death. They encircle, intertwine, crisscross, and surround him with dazzling and crisp choreographic detail, and force him to dance to exhaustion. In one spectacular moment of dance virtuosity, they force him to perform multiple entrechat six jumps. Here, Marcello Gomez is brilliant with the height, beats, and landings. In some performances, Albrecht performs brisé, but were amended in this performance.
At the last moment, Giselle intercedes and pleads with Mytra to spare Albrecht. Myrta, seeing true love exist and has prevailed, releases Giselle of her spell, to rest forever in peace. Dawn is breaking and the Wilis must return to their graves. Albrecht is left standing alone in the forest clearing.
Choreography after Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, and Marius Petipa
Libretto by Theophile Gautier
Music by Adolphe Adam
Giselle Diana Vishneva
Count Albrecht Marcelo Gomez
Hilarion Gennadi Saveliev
Myrta Veronika Part