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Giselle in the vernacular

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#1 Alexandra


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Posted 03 May 2001 - 01:37 PM

Are there any performances you've seen where the dancers made "Giselle" seem contemporary? I remember a few where the dancers were quite anachronistic, if one wanted to be a purist, but very vital. Since I'm of the religion that you don't update by changing the ballet, but you keep a ballet alive by the new interpretations that are brought to it within the context of the ballet, I found these very interesting.

Patrick Bissell, for instance, as Albrecht in the first act reacted in a very contemporary manner to the embarrassing situation in whichi he found himself at the end. He was one of those dancers whom you could see think, and when Hilarion blew the hunting horn he was dismissive -- "I can get out of this," the practiced philanderer "said". Then Courland comes out of the hut and you can tell he realizes that this isn't going to be quite easy, but you could SEE he came up with something and, again, "I can get out of this." Then he sees Bathilde, and you could see him give up. He couldn't get out of that one.

Peter Bo Bendixen, who did Hilarion as well as Albrecht in Denmark, had a moment in the second act that I thought was brilliant -- and then he never did it again, so whether he took it out or was told to take it out, I don't know. He was a very masculine, self-assured Albrecht, a tall man, and the Danish wilis were quite small, so when he was first encircled by them you felt he thought, "Hey, no problem. These are only girls." And then you could see their magic take hold; he became like a man who realizes that what he thought was a shallow puddle is really quicksand.

Another Hilarion, with Moscow Festival Ballet (and I don't have my program :) It was Timofey, but I don't remember the last name) was probably a little too contemporary, but I still liked him. He had real conversations with his fellows, not just empty gesturing, and when he first showed Giselle the sword, she brushed him off. "No, wait. You don't understand," he seemed to say, and showed her the sword again, more forcefully. She started to push him aside and he stopped her, as if to say, "You don't get it. He's a NOBLEMAN. He's LIED TO YOU."

There are other dancers who seem to make this, or any other ballet alive, simply by being -- I thought Nureyev did that. I remember reading reviews of his early performances in the West that I didn't understand in the late 1970s but I do now -- that he made ballets that seemed dull and old-fashioned come to life. The 1960s were another period, like the current one, where there were very loud voices saying that ballet was completely old-fashioned and should be replaced with modern dance. So whether you like or hate Nureyev's productions, his mere presence saved several ballets -- their reputations, if not their very existence.

There are other dancers -- I think Makarova was one -- who dance so beautifully and with such conviction that they make the style seem alive and not old-fashioned.

Any other thoughts along these lines?

#2 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 03 May 2001 - 05:11 PM

Isabelle Guérin of the Paris Opera Ballet comes to mind. She perfectly succeeds in giving her Giselle a contemporary look without appearing iconoclastic or plain pretentious. OK, the scene was partly set by the modern look (without the traditional costumes and headdresses) of the often criticized production the Paris Opera used to have, but it was nonetheless Guérin’s approach and natural flair which made the difference and although I haven’t seen her in it, am quite sure she would make the same impression in the traditional version. All dust and cobwebs were blown away simply by being and yet I don’t think that anybody ever was in doubt that we were watching Giselle. That was made clear from the very beginning by Guérin’s respect of style, theatrical feeling, and unerring sense of drama. (Interesting to note that Guérin was coached by Yvette Chauviré, the French Giselle par excellence, who as she declared let her complete freedom to build her character.)

Recently, I watched a similar attempt in the context of the Kirov production by Diana Vishneva. However, in her case her efforts to update Giselle (or whatever she may have meant to) resulted in my view in the loss of the character altogether. Brilliantly danced it may all have been, but everything about this Giselle looked mannered and contrived. There was very little respect of style and she looked cut off from the traditional surroundings of the other characters and the production. Giving Giselle a contemporary look doesn’t mean turning her into Carmen.

#3 Pamela Moberg

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Posted 03 May 2001 - 05:32 PM

Leave Giselle as she is and may the great Lord preserve us from any weird updatings. It is a very beautiful old ballet and Giselle is perfectly able to stand on her own wobbly legs in act I and then become an
elusive spirit in act II. I have said it before and I will say it again: Mats Ek's Giselle is an outrage and a sacrilege! That is my opinion which I will defend to the very last.

#4 Alexandra


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Posted 03 May 2001 - 05:42 PM

Just so there is no misunderstanding, I was not advocating updating "Giselle" I meant the thread to be about contemporary interpretations of "Giselle" (I have no objection to Mats Ek's "Giselle" as a different entity, i.e., "Mats Ek's Giselle," but I agree with you, Pamela -- it's not "Giselle.")

#5 liebs


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Posted 03 May 2001 - 08:14 PM

I don't remember the details of this performance but I remember thinking at the time that a matinee by Kristine Elliot and Kevin McKenzie was very natural and contemporary in feeling. It was probably a debut performance for her, a Wed mat. at the Met. They just seemed like two kids caught up in a situation, they didn't understand and could not get out of. I don't think Elliot, a rather small, blonde dancer, had many performances of Giselle but I remember this one with great affection.

#6 Alexandra


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Posted 03 May 2001 - 08:23 PM

Thank you for that, liebs. I never saw Elliot's "Giselle" but she was a dancer I liked very much. She was part of the generation of soloists that was, in my view, passed over when Baryshnikov took over.

OT on Giselle, but Elliot did one of the most beautiful "Theme and Variations" I ever saw, and was one of the last dancers in the Fonteyn mold -- out of fashion after Makarova.

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