BWW Review: Ballet West's GISELLE Celebrates the Classic Beauty of a Heartbreaking Story that Never Grows Old
GISELLE is one of the best loved and most romantic ballets of all time (second in popularity only to Swan Lake) with music by Adolphe Adam, was conceived and produced for Ballet West by Adam Sklute after its original choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, with staging and additional choreography by Pamela Robinson Harris. The libretto (story) was created by Théophile Gautier and Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges, who were inspired by the work of German Romantic era poet and writer Heinrich Heine. No doubt the idea that Giselle would die from too much dancing was taken from a poem by Victor Hugo, considered one of the most well-known French Romantic writers.GISELLE was the first ballet to feature dancers "en-pointe" and was done to emphasize the dancer's ghostly movements; it was also the very first ballet to have its own original score. The title role of this ballet has been a touchstone in the legacy of many great ballerinas, who have mastered the technical demands and the emotional depth of the story. And after experiencing the glorious beauty of the Ballet West production at the Soraya at CSUN, highlighted by beautiful sets and costumes by Peter Cazalet, magnificent lighting by Joseph R. Walls, and an extraordinary ensemble of skillful dancers, I can certainly understand why GISELLE has enchanted audiences since its first performance in 1841 at the Paris Opera.
In short, the two-act ballet begins during harvest time in a village in the German Rhineland where Giselle, a kind-hearted, shy girl with a weak constitution danced to perfection by Beckanne Sisk, is being courted by a young peasant man who vows his eternal love for her before revealing himself as Albrecht, Duke of Silesia, portrayed by tall and slender Chase O'Connell whose ability to gently lift Sisk as if she was floating on air added to the dreamlike beauty of first love in bloom. But the course of true love never runs smooth, taking a dark turn with the appearance of Hilarion (magnificent leap artist Hadriel Diniz), a young farmer who has been in love with Giselle since they were children. So he vows to keep Giselle for himself, whatever the consequences.Beautifully costumed dancers soon fill the stage as villagers returning from the harvest who all join in dancing with Loys and Giselle to celebrate their good fortune. But Giselle's mother Berthe (Jane Wood) admonishes her for dancing too much, fearing her fragile health will suffer. Reluctantly, Giselle is led indoors and Loys takes his leave, much to Hilarion's great pleasure. The next scene involved the arrival of a hunting party, led by the Duke of Courland (Trevor Nauman) and his daughter Bathilde (Marge Hendrick, dressed to royal perfection) who are attended to by Giselle with astonishing ensemble dancing providing entertainment. Bathilde and Giselle share tales of their fiancées, although neither is aware they are in love with the same man. Upon their departure, the villagers perform a rousing series of dances, including Giselle and Loys, until they are interrupted by Hilarion, who reveals Loys' true identity as a nobleman engaged to Bathilde. The heartbroken Giselle, realizing she has been deceived, goes mad and takes her own life, thus bringing to fruition her mother's premonition of dancing leading to the end of her life.
After intermission, the ballet takes on the soul of a white ballet (ballet blanc in French), which dates from the Romantic era which has at least one act where the female dancers are dressed all in white, normally representing spirits of some kind. In GISELLE, the second act is the 'white act' which involves the Willis, ghost maidens betrayed by men who died before they were wed. Perhaps the most beautifully romantic moments of the ballet take place as the veiled, ghostly ensemble wearing floaty, long ballet skirts, to appear more ghostlike as they weave among each other in the fog at the graveyard where Giselle is buried. Led by Myrthe, The Queen of the Willis (Katlyn Addison, with a jewel encrusted tiara upon her head), the ensemble's classically beautiful movements under a glowing full moon were certainly as showstopping as the leaps performed by the male ensemble members in Act 1.When Albrecht shows up at Giselle's grave to mourn her, the Willis join together to take revenge by making him dance until he drops dead. But Giselle rises from her grave and her ghost protects Albrecht, sharing his burden. In this way, the dance only exhausts him and doesn't kill him. But after their last romantic pas de deux, the ghost of Giselle returns to her grave, never to rise again. It is Giselle's forgiveness that has saved Albrecht, and the message is one of true love conquering all. Even the undead!
For more than 50 years, Ballet West has ranked among the top professional ballet companies in America, entertaining and exciting audiences worldwide. They are regulars at the Kennedy Center and are known for classical ballets as well as new cutting-edge creations. Please be sure to attend any future productions in your area, since their lavish production of GISELLE, complete with a cast of more than 55 dancers, live animals, and opulent sets and costumes, had just a single performance on Tuesday, February 4 at 8:00pm at The Soraya at CSUN. For more information about the venue's upcoming productions, including Ballet BC's ROMEO + JULIET ballet, visit TheSoraya.org.Ballet West continues to perform GISELLE at the Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the group is based, from February 7-15. For tickets and information, please visit https://balletwest.org/events/giselle
Photo credit: Luis Luque | Luque Photography