Treefrog

The Joffrey's new Giselle

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What's that line the Arpino character says in The Company? Something like, "Is that pretty? You know how I hate pretty."

Watching today's performance of Giselle, I kept flashing on that line and thinking that if Mr. A were already dead, he'd be rolling over in his grave. What we saw was definitely pretty. But it turns out he DOES like pretty, judging from the "Brava!"s issuing from his usual box.

This was definitely not the standard Joffrey fare -- but I'm predicting it will become so in the future. The house was packed for the Sunday matinee. The crowd was enthusiastic in its response and applause.

This is only the second Giselle I've ever seen -- the other one being ABT a couple of years ago -- so I've little to compare this performance to. As a story ballet, it suits the company very well in some ways. It is a short, tight story with a relatively small cast. What's unexpected and unusual is the traditionalism. People are used to edginess from the Joffrey, and this is sweet, straightforward, gentle, and a touch bland -- but, on the whole, gorgeous.

Major, major kudos go to the wilis. The corps work was extraordinarily balanced and uniform -- quite wonderful, I thought, for a company that presents so few opportunities for large corps to work together. The timing was spot on, the angles just so, the movements consistent. Well done.

The mime was also very effective, very readable. Again, this is something not frequently encountered in the company's usual repertoire. I imagine that the coaching by Frederick Franklin had a lot to do with the success of the acting.

Not surprisingly, Maia Wilkins and Willy Shives were given a turn as Giselle and Albrecht. (There are at least four rotating casts.) This partnership has been together for a good long while, and they have the whole adoring, madly-in-love thing down pretty well. They are such a pleasing couple that one easily overlooks the major drawback to this casting: each is old enough to be Giselle's parent. It worked, however, with Wilkins' dancing looking especially strong.

John Gluckman was truly wonderful in the peasant pas de deux. Valerie Robin was a secure and commanding Myrtha.

Has anyone else gone? What did you think?

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Thank you so much for posting that, Treefrog! It might have seemed more exciting with a different cast?

I hope if others saw it they'll post as well. There were several newspaper reports that the opening night cast -- Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili (from The Other Georgia) -- were quite good. Although I was puzzled by one sentence in Jennifer Dunning's review -- was this a compliment, or the reverse?

[Jaiani's] first act disintegration was as wrathful as it was deranged. And it all worked, tempered by a strong, clear, classical attack derived in part, one suspected, from Ms. Jaiani's love of skating.

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I was puzzled by one sentence in Jennifer Dunning's review -- was this a compliment, or the reverse?
[Jaiani's] first act disintegration was as wrathful as it was deranged. And it all worked, tempered by a strong, clear, classical attack derived in part, one suspected, from Ms. Jaiani's love of skating.

I read it as a compliment. As I picture it, this Romantic era Giselle has a touch of righteous, feminist era rage. But perhaps it was that second sentence you were wondering about.

Treefrog, thanks!

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Thank you so much for your review Treefrog!

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Thank you so much for posting that, Treefrog! It might have seemed more exciting with a different cast?

At first I was going to say that, on the contrary, it was exciting. But then ... I thought, no, you were right to pick up on my tone. At least in the first act, it was more secure than exciting. And yes, a different cast might be more exciting. As much as I love Wilkins and Shives, especially together, I did feel a touch of the "ho-hum, here they are again." One of the reasons I appreciated Gluckman's pas was that it really WAS exciting.

I did love the forest scene, though. And all in all this is a definite keeper of a production.

Some random ruminations:

-- the romantic-style hair looked downright out of place on this company. Can't quite place why; they just didn't quite look the part.

-- I still can't figure out why Giselle wants to save Albrecht, who has proven he is a cad. I guess it's often the lot of the Other Woman to believe that He Truly Loves Me, even though the man in question has demonstrated his penchant for straying. (I know, I know: it probably has something to do with period concepts of ideal romantic love . . .) Should we admire or pity her?

-- Giselle's opening dance with the wilis had a frenetic quality to it, as though a continuation of (or transition from) her mad scene. It contrasts with the wilis more fluid movements. Is this deliberate? What popped into my head is that Giselle is somehow different from the other wilis, which is why she wants to save Albrecht instead of killing him. But maybe it's just a transition from life to death. Or maybe I'm imagining the whole thing.

-- it was fun to see Charthel Arthur as Giselle's mother

-

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Treefrog, can you tell us the other Giselle/Albrecht castings?

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I was there Friday night, the Christina Rocas/Mauro Villanueva cast, and seeing this young, fresh pairing was definitely exciting! Rocas -- a first, starring role for her, I believe -- was in complete command of the difficult steps and balances, and Villanueva was perfection: athletic, but beautifully classical and musical. In act 2 he did sky high assemble jumps, with these solid, bulls-eye landings: very exciting indeed. Perhaps Rocas could have presented more depth during the "Mad Scene", but she and Villanueva were poetic and magical in the second act. May we see more meaty roles for these two in the future! Bravas also to Kathleen Thielhelm, an alluring Myrta, and Allison Walsh, who danced the Peasant Pas fabulously.

As I was contemplating possible future changes under the new leadership, I thought how fun the Joffrey's all-star/no-star casting has been. One can see yesterday's Giselle and Albrecht dancing tomorrow's peasant man and woman. I hope this isn't considered too quaint now.

I was also wondering why there were not the usual dancers' photos in the program and the casting was printed on an insert.

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Thanks for that review, motwins8391. It's always interesting to see younger and upcoming dancers in roles like this.

As I was contemplating possible future changes under the new leadership, I thought how fun the Joffrey's all-star/no-star casting has been. One can see yesterday's Giselle and Albrecht dancing tomorrow's peasant man and woman. I hope this isn't considered too quaint now.

I was also wondering why there were not the usual dancers' photos in the program and the casting was printed on an insert.

I would also wonder about that. What other followers of the Joffrey think about this approach to casting?

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vagansmom, you now have the answer to your question. I was mistaken about how many casts. There are only three (unless they are saving someone for next weekend, but that seems unlikely).

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To be truly Joffreyan, it would have to be Giselle and Albrecht one night, off the next night, corps the night after that, then maybe peasant pas, then back to the corps.

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To be truly Joffreyan, it would have to be Giselle and Albrecht one night, off the next night, corps the night after that, then maybe peasant pas, then back to the corps.
I don't know much about the company history of the Joffrey. Is this -- and what motwins8391 describes -- a long ccmpany tradition or philosophy? Did it start with Joffrey's own peferences? There were "stars, "or at lest de facto principals, within the Joffrey ensemble in the old days, no? I'm thinking of Gary Chryst, Trinette Singleton, Maximiliano Zomosa, Christian Holder ... even (briefly) Nureyev(!)

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Yes, Joffrey's own stated policy was "no stars, all stars". The audiences decided their own favorites.

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To be truly Joffreyan, it would have to be Giselle and Albrecht one night, off the next night, corps the night after that, then maybe peasant pas, then back to the corps.

Here's the actual lineup (Friday, Saturday matinee, Saturday evening, Sunday matinee):

Rocas: Giselle, Giselle's friend/Wili X 3

Villanueva: Albrecht, Village Man, off, Village Man

Wilkins: off, Giselle, off, Giselle

Shives: off, Albrecht, off, Albrecht

Jaiani: off, off, Giselle, off

Suluashvili: Village Man, off, Albrecht, off

The current system isn't quite all star/no star. Some dancers are more starlike than others (e.g. Shives, Wilkins, Kitten), and some never seem to make it out of the corps, and a large group are first among equals: you can count on seeing them in the secondary roles, or even starring occasionally, but they also appear in the corps a lot. I can't think of anyone who never appears in corps or lesser roles. I kind of have the impression that even the star dancers like a chance to perform but not have to carry the show.

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Treefrog, how lucky you are to have a producition of Giselle you can get to know.

After seeing Ananiashvili dance it with the Bolshoi ca 1989, it seemd to me a very serious thing -- a kind of saint's life -- the first act shows her passion and death and the second act her first miracle.

Oakland Ballet danced it that way, too, in Franklin's staging, as a tragedy --really moving. SF Ballet dancces it more as something pretty -- more exquisitely, with lots of extra laciness whch I don't think it needs or even really benefits from, though Tina LeBlanc rises above that and makes it tragic. I've been lucky to be able to see it a lot. but the first time I saw it, with Sibley and Dowell no less, it did not lay a glove on me; it was only after a while that I started to realize how deep and how great it is.

Mr balanchine wrote a wonderful piece about it in his book, "Stories of the great ballets." He calls it the 'Hamlet' of ballet. I really recommend that book, and certainly his little essay on Giselle.

Good luck to the joffrey with their "Giselle."

I love the ballet beyond anything -- for many different kinds of reasons -- A) all that JUMPING. It's just wonderful to see a ballet with women jumping , and those phrases are SO beautiful.

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Yes, Treefrog and everybody, thank you very much! Treefrog, where do you get the casting? I'd like to work up a short list for the coming weekend, but I don't see that information on their website.

I've seen some major Giselles too, such as Fracci and Nagy, not to mention the Makarova-Barishnikov video, and wondered if JBC could really cast this moving tragedy, but hey, it's right here in town, and look at all the enthusiasm for it on Ballet Talk! So I'm up for a good last-minute seat.

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The casting is from the program insert, which only covered last weekend. I'm sorry, Jack. Wouldn't it be great if they would put the casting up on the website? I wonder if they will tell you, if you call. Which cast would you most like to see?

Paul, I agree, this is a wonderful ballet. I loved it the first time I saw it, and the second too. I hope the Joffrey keeps it in their repertoire and that I get to see it again (but not this weekend -- for those of you who remember Dolphingirl, I'm off to watch her dance in her college modern company's show :) )

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The casting is from the program insert, which only covered last weekend.

I wonder why they went with an insert this time. Usually they print the full cast for all performances directly in the program. No dancer photos in this program either.

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Treefrog, I suppose I'd like to see the Wilkins-Shives cast, to judge by the comments here. Shives's Billy the Kid was notable for his taking both parts -- young and old Billy -- and aquitting himself really well, and I thought his Petrushka was all the justification the company needed for reviving it. Not that the ballet is named Albrecht, of course, but he has plenty to do.

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Thanks, Paul, for reminding me that "Balanchine's Complete Stories..." is not all first-person essays about his own ballets and synopses by Mason. That is a superb little essay, and I thought I'd copy out a few sentences to share with those who don't have this out-of-print book:

"Giselle is a classic: it is not only important historically, it also happens to be good... the work is such a good one that we always discover something in it we hadn't seen before... Giselle has come down to us because it combines innovation with drama and dancing that makes us forget all about history...

Giselle's innovation is its summing up of what we know as the romantic ballet. To be romantic about something is to see what you are and to wish for something entirely different. This requires magic... dancers attired in billowy white seemed part of the world and yet also above it... the sylph became ballet's symbol for romantic love -- the girl who is so beautiful, so light, so pure that she is unattainable: touch her, and she vanishes... Purely a creature of the imagination, too illusory a character to make us feel deeply...

What would make us care... would be to give her a basis in real life, to make her real and unreal at the same time, like the Wilis, girls who were engaged to be married yet died before their wedding days; their love was never fulfilled because of intervening powers... In the evening they rose from their graves and danced alone in the moonlight, impassioned with their anger at death; but dressed in their flowing bridal gowns and endowed with unearthly gifts of movement, their ghostly forms never seemed to touch the ground. They danced with the young men who came only to trap them: their suitors were compelled to dance until they died...

This story made the story of La Sylphide look like merely the first step in the attainment of the romantic ideal... At its first performance... Giselle ou les Wilis was proclaimed the triumphant successor to La Sylphide and the greatest ballet of its time. ..."

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WOW . . . maybe I need to take a good long break and not see ballet for a while. I took a very good friend to see Giselle on the final Sunday performance. She loved it. Can I borrow some rose colored glass?? PLEASE . .Anybody???

The staging was cold and awkard, one corps boy fell, the final poses throughout the Peasnt Pas (all 3 of them) were unknown to me, and I think it speaks volumes that soem posters could not figure out why Giselle wanted to save Albrecht. There was very little chemistry or dramatic story telling going on.

Act II did not fair any better. Footwork was VERY sloppy and fell within the level of intermediate classroom work. Unclear entre'cha trois??? Come on! The hops across the stage in arabesque got so out of step that one Willi was actually jumping totally opposite the rest of the cast. Hilarion's part in Act II was cut to a point where I am not even sure why he was there in Act II at all. Did anyone believe that Hilarion was killed by that trip and toss off stage?

The final moments of the ballet were simply odd. No shower of lilies from Giselle to Albrecht to symbolize the redemption. No slow final circle for Albretch to walk as he drops the flowers and realizes he does not deserve a love of this power and magnitude . . either of them would have been welcomed . .but to have him . .well, wait what did he do?? Fall? Faint? Die? I am unclear. And therein lies my one sentence synoposis: I am unclear. Even the program did not help. Did anyone else notice that the program detailed that Giselle was to have killed herself with Albrecht's sword?

My goodness Ashley has his work cut out for him!

And for the record . . I adore the Joffrey Ballet. I just wish I could find them!

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WELl, Ashley Wheater is a fine ballet master -- a decent human being, and also someone hwo loves ballet so much he will be tough love for the company.

But Stage Left, I want to know why your friend loved it. What did s/he say? it may not have mattered that those things happened if s/he was following some through-line that WAS clearly expressed.

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Thanks, Stage Left, for your thoughtful (and obviously carefully observed) comments. And welcome to Ballet Talk!

Reading your post made me think of my own responses to Giselle as performed by my own regional company: one which, like the Joffrey, is not really experienced in the romantic style. I wonder: do we sometimes overpraise these efforts because we are so grateful that they are being made at all? :D

And for the record . . I adore the Joffrey Ballet. I just wish I could find them!
It would be interesting to hear your thoughts about what the real "Joffrey Ballet" means to you in terms of style, technique, rep, etc. Does Giselle fit into that picture? If so, what can they do to create a production closer to what you were expecting?

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Thanks, Stage Left, for your thoughtful (and obviously carefully observed) comments. And welcome to Ballet Talk!

Reading your post made me think of my own responses to Giselle as performed by my own regional company: one which, like the Joffrey, is not really experienced in the romantic style. I wonder: do we sometimes overpraise these efforts because we are so grateful that they are being made at all? :speechless-smiley-003:

And for the record . . I adore the Joffrey Ballet. I just wish I could find them!
It would be interesting to hear your thoughts about what the real "Joffrey Ballet" means to you in terms of style, technique, rep, etc. Does Giselle fit into that picture? If so, what can they do to create a production closer to what you were expecting?

Thanks for your welcome! And I appreciate the opportunity to continue dialogue . .

To Paul - My friend is so enamored with the formalness of classical ballet in general, that she wanted to arrive at intermission because she really doesn't like Act I . .so . .she does not even expect a dramatic through line and it is not necessary for her to have one to enjoy classical ballet. A stage full of lovely women dancing in unison dressed in romantic tu-tus is her idea of bliss and I was gald to give that to her. When I reminded her of the Peasant Pas and the friend's dance, she remembered that she did like those parts, so we were able to experience the entire production.

To Bart -The time has come for the Joffrey to evolve into what it will become. Time marches on. And time will reveal the direction the Joffrey company will take under the new and possibly other directors the company will have.

The rep of the company has become much more middle of the road in the past few seasons. If there was a single word that clearly defines what drew me to Joffrey . .it would be PASSION. Can you imagine a Giselle with dramatic continuity and passion?? Now that would be something. . but I did not find dramatic continuity or passion. The way they used to do Cranko's Romeo and Juliet . . you could hear the gasps and sobs from the audience. But . .that was more than 20 years ago . .the audience is differnet . .the city is different and let's face it . .I am different. . perhaps I do own rose colored glasses and I wear them to view the past.

I also believe that Bob Joffrey knew that the pasionate dancers that he employed would not be able to pull off a Giselle or a Swan Lake or Bayadere . .the classics with the tell tale, expose the weaknesses, white act. But they would devour a performance of La Fille Mal Gardee and the audience would be howling! And when was the last time a Joffrey premiere had the audience cheering (Pretty sure it was Paul Christiano's Ballet. And the Auditorium audience WAS cheering .. and gasping) And they dropped it after one season.

I did not mention any of these observations to my blissful companion. What was the point? She was sooo happy. When I came to Ballet Talk, I think I expected to read a few like minded responces. But now, with the open ended posting of Paul and Bart . .I may have found something better . . . communication! And cheers to that!

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perhaps I do own rose colored glasses and I wear them to view the past.
I think this is somethine a number of us share and have to deal with. :speechless-smiley-003:

We're lucky to have had those times, and wonderful to recall them. But sometimes it's difficult to conceive of a vision for an alternative future. One thing I like about the posters here is that they encourage me to remain loyal to the past, while learning more about the options that ballet has for the future. I need constant help with both.

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