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My own Giselle-athon!


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#1 canbelto

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 06:44 PM

I had so much fun with the Nutcracktathon, and I realized I think I have just about every commercially available Giselle ever released. So ... I'm going to be reviewing them. Unlike Nutcracker, Giselle productions don't differ that much from company to company. The main reason to watch Giselle is because all things considered it is still probably the greatest role for both the ballerina and the danseur in the classical ballet repertory. So many great Giselles ... This should be fun! :wub:

First up:

Giselle (Bolshoi Ballet): Galina Ulanova, Nikolai Fadeyechev, Rimma Karelskaya

This film is by Paul Czinner and it was made in 1956, when the Bolshoi Ballet made an absolute sensation touring the west. Galina Ulanova's Giselle was hailed by both critics and the public as one of the greatest interpretations of the role. I suppose we should be thankful that Czinner gave us this video document of Ulanova's Giselle. But on the other hand ...

:wallbash: :wallbash: :wallbash:

This Giselle is SEVERELY abridged. Here are just the major cuts I counted:
1. the peasant pas de deux
2. the Spessivtseva solo
3. Giselle's inititation as a Wili
4. Giselle's first encounter with Albrecht in Act 2
5. Czinner also decides to cut away at the beginning of the Act 2 pas de deux when Giselle does her exposed developpes.
6. Myrtha's solo
In addition, Act 2 is way too brightly lit, and thus ruins the nocturnal, ghostly atmosphere. Basically, what we're left with is a skeleton of what was so often described as an absolutely shattering portrayal.


I *think* Czinner's basic idea was to cut as much away from the "boring" dance parts as possible, and thus focus his story on what he saw as Ulanova's main appeal -- her genuine down-to-earth peasant charm. He doesn't get that for Giselle, dance is the story. Giselle's reckless love of dancing contributes to her weak heart, and in Act 2, the Wilis force men to dance to death. Giselle's dancing saves Albrecht. But the cuts also damage the ballet in other ways -- all the cuts make mincemeat of Adams' lovely score, giving the music a choppy feel. It also reduces the main theme of Act 2, which is the battle between Giselle and Myrtha -- love vs. anger, forgiveness vs. vengeance.

Nevertheless, one can see that Ulanova's acclaim as Giselle wasn't just mindless gushing. Despite how much of her part is cut, the things that critics spoke about are all there. Her warmth, her simplicity, her ability to seem girlish despite the fact that at the time of filming she was 46, they are all captured on film. In Act 2, Ulanova is not really ghostly (and Czinner's overly bright lighting doesn't help), she remains the innocent peasant girl of Act 1. Yet there's a lightness to her movements that is enchanting to watch. She doesn't have the huge leaps of Plisetskaya, but she is able to give the illusion of flying across the stage in small jumps. And the Bolshoi corps are absolutely beautiful. Fadeyechev is wearing the stupidest-looking toupee, and would be considered beefy and unglamorous by today's standards, but he's a sensitive partner for Ulanova. And he executes a series of turning brises that are pretty impressive. And the role is really too cut for Fadeyechev to make much of an impact anyway.

Here is her mad scene:



And here is the last pas de deux between Giselle and Albrecht that thankfully Czinner left intact.





Overall, while I'm grateful to have this video document of a legendary portrayal, I wish it wasn't so severely truncated. :angry2:

#2 kathaP

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Posted 21 December 2010 - 10:13 AM

I agree that the cuts are unfortunate, but I find the parts that are there extremely impressive nevertheless. Ulanova's mad scene is just something else. I wish the Myrtha solo was there, the severity of the dancer who portrays her really works for me, I would have liked more of her.

#3 canbelto

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Posted 21 December 2010 - 03:25 PM

Next up:

Giselle (Cuban National Ballet): Alicia Alonso, Azari Plisetski, Mirta Ple (sp?) (1964)

It's 8 years later, and another legendary Giselle was caught on film. Unlike the Czinner film, which is cut to shreds and has a hurried, thoughtless quality to it, this film attempts to be a real ballet film of sorts. It starts out with a shot of items in a village house, and there's a sleeping woman inside, who's tending both a fire and an infant. She opens the door and we get the "village" set. Another oddity is that there's a musical rearrangement of Albrecht's entrance, as he's shown entering the hut first to change from his nobleman outfit to his peasant outfit. THEN as he emerges from the hut in peasant clothes, his traditional entrance music plays. In Act 2 there is some strange business with some guys frolicking in the woods next to Hilarion and Giselle's grave, and it uses music that I've never heard anywhere else. They try unsuccesfully to get Hilarion to stop moping.

But pleasures of this film are that it's presented complete, and the mime is preserved. The peasant pas de deux is danced as a group dance for the corps de ballet. There's a real attempt to recreate both a rustic village in Act 1 and the woodsy graveyard in Act 2. There's even some fake trees and a painted drop in the background of a mountain. Bathilde comes onstage with a real hunting dog.

The raison d'etre of this video is of course Alonso's Giselle, and even though this film was made when she was 44, and her vision problems were severe at this point, I feel as if the film is a fairly accurate recreation of Alonso's Giselle. I pulled up Edwin Denby's review of Alonso's Giselle and I'm going to quote it at length:

"Alonso is a delightfully young and a very Latin Giselle, quick, clear, direct in relation to her lover. She is passionate rather than sensuous. She is brilliant in allegro, not so convincing in sustained grace. Her plie is not yet a soft and subtly modulated one and this weakens her soaring phrases. She has little patience for those slow-motion, vaporous effects that we Northerners find so touching. But there is no fake about her, no staginess. Her pointes, her young high extensions, her clean line, her lightness in speed, and her quick balance of are star quality."


That was written in 1945. But in 1964, Alonso's Giselle has the same features that Denby wrote about. She is passionate and serious, rather than girlishly sensuous. Her allegro work is still brilliant. She does the difficult Spessivtseva diagonal as well as I've ever seen it done, and in Act 2, all those quick little entrechats are done with a jaw-dropping speed. She is also more notably flexible than other ballerinas of her era.

Her is her Spessivtseva variation. Amazing how she starts the variation so slowly, but attacks those pirouettes so quickly and fiercely.



On the other hand, the weaknesses that Denby mentions are there as well. I feel as if her Mad Scene isn't as convincing as some other Giselles -- there's something a bit too grounded and mature about Alonso's Giselle to believe that she'd suddenly snap. (Don't kill me Cristian!) She seems more coldly furious than absolutely insane, and somewhat reserved. She doesn't really try to stab herself, doesn't laugh, throw her necklace on the ground, or any of the other business. She just kind of ... dies. A different interpretation, but i could imagine the effect being a bit muted in the theater.

Mad Scene:



In Act 2, Alonso is uncomfortable with the exposed developpes of Act 2 (the camera tactfully does a cutaway). Her leg shakes. As Denby implies, she's more of a terre a terre dancer. She doesn't have the effortless elevation of many Giselles and thus the big jumps seem more effortful. At certain points she deletes the jumps in favor of pirouettes. But she does the allegro work of Act 2 with a speed and firmness of attack that is truly rare. Her initiation scene is quick, furious, and ends with some lightning speed pique turns. And those entrechats -- her speed during them suggests in itself a spirit that's possessed by an unearthly force.

Here's her Act 2 pdd. Watch those entrechats! Amazing!



Although Giselle is a great role that lends itself to many different interpretations, I think there are two BASIC types of Giselles in Act 2 : the gentle spirits (in this list, I'd put Ulanova, Makarova, Cojocaru, as the masters of this interpretations), and the stern ghosts. Alonso is definitely more of a stern ghost figure, but she ends Giselle with one of the most beautiful gestures of forgiveness I've ever seen. As she descends to her grave, she lunges herself into a deep arabesque penchee, and lets Albrecht kiss her hand for the last time.

I've gone on so much about Alonso's Giselle, but Azari Plisetsky is also worth mentioning. He's Maya Plisetskaya's brother, and he's not really a virtuoso dancer, and doesn't have his famous sister's intensity and charisma. He's a sensitive partner, but I feel he's one of the weaknesses of the film. There's not much chemistry between him and Alonso, and he remains somewhat of a blank slate dramatically.

The corps de ballet are obviously inhibited by dancing in a small soundstage, but they are one of the marvels of the film. Cuban ballet was in its infancy, but in Act 1 they dance with a real energetic heartiness, and in Act 2, the Wilis of Act 2 are one of the best things about the film. Not only do they dance with unison, they also dance with a kind of feverish intensity. One wonderful moment is when they all circle around Hilarion, arms, linked, like a king cobra. The relish with which they throw him off a cliff to his death is frightening. The Myrtha acts like an absolute queen of her intendants, regal and almost frighteningly composed as she bourress onstage. I love the little smirk on her face as Giselle rises from her grave, like 'we've got another one.'

Overall, this film, despite the grainy black and white quality, and the somewhat old-fashioned naturalistic touches, has a surprisingly modern feel. Alonso's technique is what we might think of as "modern ballerina" -- a more contemporary, stretched body line, and her interpretation doesn't feel old-fashioned for a moment. This film of Giselle is on my short list for "must-have" Giselles.

#4 canbelto

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Posted 21 December 2010 - 03:32 PM

Here by the way is how Alonso ends her Giselle. Watch the mime of "I'm already dead" and the final gesture. Sigh.



#5 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 21 December 2010 - 10:44 PM

Canbelto, there's nothing I could add to your great, accurate description of Alonso's Giselle, included her terre quality. Ir is very interesting that the majority of the Cuban ballerinas are more about pirouettes and fouettes than jetes. I believe their physique has a lot to do with that. As someone noted, the totality of the ballerinas I posted in the tribute threads are very rounded...big hips, thick legs, strong ankles...and I think that's also what makes them very strong on the floor but less capable on the air. Alonso was no exception.

About the Cuban Giselle, it does contains a lot of original music and sequences that are deleted in both the Russian and the American productions. Berthe's extended mime telling the story of the Willis, Albrecht's entering the right cottage and re appearing as Loys-(Beaumont, "The Ballet called Giselle", P.91), the huntsmen playing dice in the forest and scared away by the willis-(Beaumont, same book, p 109), the wagon where Giselle is placed as Queen of the Vintage, Myrtha's extended variation, right after picking two lilies, etc...

One of the things I miss from this video is the throwing of the lily in the air. I had the honor to see the very last performances of Alonso's Giselle, back in the early 90's, and Lienz Chang, her last partner, used to jump and grab the lily mid-air. It was beautiful.

Another of the little nice details of this production is the body position of the Willis while dancing in their presentation, with the characteristic romantic-era head tilt that is usually lost in many modern stagings of the ballet.

On, I could go on and on and on...you know me, but I'll stop here.

I'm loving your Gisellethon...!! :clapping:

#6 canbelto

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Posted 22 December 2010 - 05:18 AM

Canbelto, there's nothing I could add to your great, accurate description of Alonso's Giselle, included her terre quality. Ir is very interesting that the majority of the Cuban ballerinas are more about pirouettes and fouettes than jetes. I believe their physique has a lot to do with that. As someone noted, the totality of the ballerinas I posted in the tribute threads are very rounded...big hips, thick legs, strong ankles...and I think that's also what makes them very strong on the floor but less capable on the air. Alonso was no exception.

About the Cuban Giselle, it does contains a lot of original music and sequences that are deleted in both the Russian and the American productions. Berthe's extended mime telling the story of the Willis, Albrecht's entering the right cottage and re appearing as Loys-(Beaumont, "The Ballet called Giselle", P.91), the huntsmen playing dice in the forest and scared away by the willis-(Beaumont, same book, p 109), the wagon where Giselle is placed as Queen of the Vintage, Myrtha's extended variation, right after picking two lilies, etc...


That's really interesting, do Cuban Giselles still substitute fast pique turns and such for the traditional huge grande jetes? And is the missing music (like Albrecht changing in the hut) still in the production?

But isn't it amazing how Denby wrote that review in 1945 but he really perfectly described Alonso's Giselle? :wub:

#7 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 22 December 2010 - 07:37 AM

Canbelto...the Cuban Giselle is still performed just as when it was first staged in Cuba a gazillion years ago...! :P Dolin was the very last regisseur of the ballet, when he flew to Havana to coach Mme. when she danced the role with Vasiliev in 1980. Ulanova also went to coach him. Talk about Ballet Theatre vs. Bolshoi style...! :clapping:

That's really interesting, do Cuban Giselles still substitute fast pique turns and such for the traditional huge grande jetes?


In which part of the choreography...?

#8 canbelto

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Posted 22 December 2010 - 11:05 AM

In the sequence when Giselle does some jetes before Albrecht follows her offstage with a grande jete, I notice Alonso substituted a pirouette. Also, during the flower throwing/catching moment, traditionally Giselles do a grande jete and throw back the flower, but Alonso does a back-bended arabesque and throws her lily back. Is that still in the CNB's Giselle?

#9 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 22 December 2010 - 12:24 PM

Yes and yes...pirouettes to go offstage and arabesque to hold the flower. Now, when Lienz Chang partnered her, she would THROW the flowers-(but still, while in arabesque)-for him to catch them mid-air.

#10 canbelto

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 02:02 PM

Next up:

Giselle (ABT): Carla Fracci, Erik Bruhn, Toni Lander. Made in 1969

This performance was clearly meant to be a Major Motion Picture. You can tell from the lavish sets, expenses like a string of noblemen on real horses attending the gathering at Giselle Village, a surfeit of hunting dogs, and the expensive, frilly costumes for all the women. Fracci and Bruhn are movie-star glam, and there are copious close-ups to show us what a gorgeous couple they are. Fracci's hair is in a gorgeous updo, and decorated with lace, and she's wearing a very pretty dress indeed.

Also, since this is a Major Motion Picture, the director and cameramen decided that a fixed camera and long takes would not do -- no, not at all. The camera constantly had to be jumping back and forth, until one was dizzy. Quick cutaways from the dancing to closeups and reaction shots lost its charm after about 5 minutes. Particularly irritating is the Act 1 peasant dance in which the director constantly cuts between filming the dancers' upper bodies and then jumping to shots of their legs and feet, as if their whole bodies couldn't be filmed in one shot. In Act 2, the Wilis are dancing near a swampy lake and instead of a straightforward shot of Fracci and Bruhn actually dancing, the camera focuses on their reflections in the water. Very irritating.

But the reason this was filmed was to capture Fracci and Bruhn, and in many ways one can see why their partnership was so special. Arlene Croce once wrote of Bruhn:

"Bruhn has always been a kind of insular star. Inwardly rigid, absorbed in his own perfection, he has never mated well with any ballerina, and his best roles were those that placed barriers between him and his women -- James in La Sylphide, Jean in Miss Julie, the Poet in La Sonnambula -- or that accounted for the neurotic tension he projected, and still projects, onstage."

But it's this exact insular quality that makes his partnership with Fracci so compelling. Fracci as Giselle is not as demure as Ulanova or Alonso -- she is outwardly infatuated with her handsome prince, and Bruhn's coolness and calculating manner give the ballet a tension that would otherwise be absent. Fracci is not afraid to appear slack-jawed as she stares lovingly at her man, or to seem as if she really can't keep her hands off him. During the Spessivtseva solo she stops several times to stare lovingly at Albrecht, and to blow him a kiss. One could imagine that this is the type of Giselle who would draw hearts on all her "i's" in her letters to Albrecht.



Fracci's Giselle is also something else -- a bit of a village glamour girl, and she knows it. Act 1 is full of her beaming her big cheerleader smile to everyone, this Giselle is clearly a bit willful and used to getting her way. Her mother by the way is played in a totally creepy way. She doesn't do the Wilis mime but the music plays in the background as she stares, stone-faced, at her daughter.

Fracci's mad scene is famous. She doesn't let down her hair, but instead just lets one strand loose. As the Mad Scene progresses her bun gets messier and messier. Tears stream down her face -- this is not a Giselle who holds back her emotions, ever. The way Bruhn slowly and deliberately kisses Bathilde's hand, without a shred of remorse, contrasts so well with Fracci's fervent infatuation. I like the way Bruhn stares coldly at the whole scene, perhaps embarrassed even by Giselle's display. Usually Giselles will collapse in Albrecht's arms, but this Giselle doesn't quite make it there before expiring. Again, it's a touching contrast between the calculated motives of Albrecht and the open-hearted infatuation of Giselle.

In Act 2, the lens is deliberately blurry as Myrtha (Toni Lander) bourrees onstage. As she comes into focus, we see she's dancing on a wide circular moonlight area. Shots of her reflection in the water as she does her various plunging arabesques. There's some internal cuts in Myrtha's music, more shots of the water, and the rest of the Wilis pop out. Toni Lander is blond, and has a heavuly powedered face frozen like a mask, and she seems literally incapable of even moving the muscles on her face. The dance of the Wilis is marred by sudden shots to feet, but otherwise does preserve the beauty of this ballet blanc in several overhead takes. However, when the Wili arabesques hop across the stage, the camera decides to blur their movements and then shoot them again from a water reflection angle.

Fracci's Act 2 provides a real contrast to Act 1. In Act 2 her face is heavily powdered, and she wears a stern expression the entire time. Her initiation scene is one of the best -- for a dancer often criticized for her technique, she turns with a real fury and speed. But overall I like the contrast between Fracci in the two acts. She was betrayed, and this Giselle doesn't so much forgive. She remains distant physically from Albrecht the whole act -- they even eschew the traditional lifts in the grand pas de deux. This is one of my favorite parts of Giselle -- how many different ways the second act can be played. There are some Giselles who seem very actively loving and forgiving, and then there are the Giselles that seem possessed by a spirit no longer their own.

As for Bruhn, he too seems not so much filled with remorse as literally haunted. His face is one of frozen terror. The relationship between Giselle and Albrecht is one of the most radical I've seen -- in Act 1 they seemed literally in heat, but in Act 2 there is a gulf between them that can no longer be bridged, even as Albrecht's life is saved. Both Bruhn and Fracci are masters of the petit allegro steps. Bruhn substitutes a series of magnificent entrechat sixes for the traditional brises in his variation, and Fracci also skims the floor with beautiful fast entrechats and small jumps rather than the big flying grande jetes. Fracci's very soft, romantic arabesques are one of the most beautiful things about her Giselle.





Overall, while the camera work drove me crazy, I feel this Giselle was well worth capturing on film. This is the first Giselle on film where the relationship between Giselle and Albrecht is palpably sexual in Act 1, and in Act 2, as I said, I love the idea that Giselle is now really a ghost, and whether she's forgiven Albrecht or not is a mystery. Her spirit is no longer her own, and the haunted look on Bruhn's face shows that at the end of the ballet, Albrecht's life is saved, but his soul is not.

#11 bart

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 05:14 PM

Thanks, canbelto. This is a fascinating set of posts.

I love Fracci's Giselle, and I think that you are right that this partnership somehow allowed Bruhn to reveal himself emotionally more than was often the case. Despite the cinematic excesses, this is probably my favorite of all the Giselle films. For Fracci. And for Fracci-Bruhn.

Fracci was also a great Juliet at ABT, though I can't remember the version (Cranko's? Tudor's? MacMillan's?) She was the only ABT dancer in her day -- and especially in these two ballets -- who made me feel the way I did when I saw Fonteyn.

I know that Bruhn danced Romeo, but don't recall whether he danced the role with Fracci or not. I DO recall a rather sharp comment by Croce or some other reviewer that Bruhn's Romeo, in the balcony scene, seemed more excited by his long, flowing cape than by Juliet.

#12 richard53dog

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 05:54 PM

Thanks, canbelto. This is a fascinating set of posts.



Fracci was also a great Juliet at ABT, though I can't remember the version (Cranko's? Tudor's? MacMillan's?) She was the only ABT dancer in her day -- and especially in these two ballets -- who made me feel the way I did when I saw Fonteyn.

I know that Bruhn danced Romeo, but don't recall whether he danced the role with Fracci or not. I DO recall a rather sharp comment by Croce or some other reviewer that Bruhn's Romeo, in the balcony scene, seemed more excited by his long, flowing cape than by Juliet.



I saw Fracci as Tudor's Juliet at ABT but I want to say that her Romeo was Nagy. Later she did Cranko's Juliet in NY with Nureyev but that wasn't with ABT.

I looked in the ABT repertory archives, a wonderful resource and found that the only complete Romeo and Juliets that ABT has done were the Tudor, which premiered in the 40s and was revived much later for Fracci/Nagy and Makarova/Prinz and the MacMillan which didn't premiere until 1985, too late for Bruhn for sure.

Maybe there was a revival of the Tudor for Fracci and Bruhn around the mid 60s? Some years earlier than the revival I saw which was the early 70s.

The archive does list some pas de deux stagings though, including this one:

ROMEO AND JULIET
(pas de deux)

Music by Sergei Prokofiev
Choreography by Erik Bruhn
Lighting by Jean Rosenthal

World Premiere: 11 Teatro dell'Opera, Rome, 3/66
Original Cast: Carla Fracci, Erik Bruhn
ABT Premiere: New York State Theater, 5/10/67
Cast: Carla Fracci, Erik Bruhn


Maybe this was what you saw?

Fracci/Bruhn was the second Giselle I saw and it was magical to see the two together although Bruhn was already past his best days. Fracci, as canbelto notes, was very ethereal in the second act, she was some kind of very Romantic apparition, not at all real. Not only her face but her arms and back were very white and her tutu was enormous, this soft foamy material
(later determined by some sleuthing on the part of Gelsey Kirkland to be silk tulle)

Looking back, Fracci's Giselle was really an amazing creation in evoking such an mystical kind of being. You weren't completely sure exactly WHAT you saw. Very clever theatricality on her part, I think!

#13 canbelto

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 07:24 PM

I too love Fracci's huge fluffy romantic tutu. I notice that different ballerinas make themselves up differently in Act 2. Ulanova wore practically no "ghost" makeup, to seem exactly like the sweet peasant girl of Act 2. But some dancers like Fracci, Vishneva, etc. really pile on the white powder, the dark eyeshadow, to give a real scary ghost effect. Their dark hair becomes part of the makeup too.

#14 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 08:12 PM

Fracci's Sppessivtseva's solo-(which she chose to honor up until the devilish last diagonal)- is probably one of the best ones filmed out there. The way she stands after the last pas de chat, with no shyness whatsoever, but with a triumphant face and demeanor tells a lot about her unique characterization. Brava!

#15 GianninaM

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Posted 24 December 2010 - 07:09 AM

Canbelto, this is the best Topic ever! I can't wait for each installment. Everything is so well writen and SO interesting. Thank you very much for this lovely Christmas present.

Giannina


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