I always think, when I see another performance of Giselle, that surely we’ve discussed everything there is to think of with this ballet, and I’m always wrong.
The new sets and costumes for this production are both lovely, but they do come from slightly different places, which makes for an interesting dichotomy. The sets are firmly sourced in the art and literature of the Romantic era – from the ruined church on a distant hill in the second act to the quaint cottage where Albrecht hides his cloak and sword, we are in Romantic Ballet Land. The costumes are a different matter, though. Giselle, her friends and the Wilis are all in fairly standard kit (bodice and skirt) but the men, especially the noblemen and the hunters, look like illustrations from a mid-19th century fashion plate. We just finished re-watching Ken Burns’ Civil War series at my house and the the village hunting party at the top of act 2 looks very much like Matthew Brady’s daugerrotypes.
If anything, I think the company is even more secure in the specifics of this production than they were at the premiere. The mime, in particular, seems very homey, and easy to follow. Albrecht and Wilfride have a detailed conversation about his status (“the lord with a sword”) where the vocabulary repeats clearly – which helps to imprint it for viewers that aren’t so familiar with the language. And we see Hilarion in the background repeating this, which comes back to bite Albrecht when his status is revealed. Hilarion actually tells quite a lot of the story, very deftly.
All three Giselles from the opening weekend came out of the house with zest – they may have a weak heart, but they don’t telegraph it from the beginning. Rausch is probably the most gentle of the three, Korbes and Nakamura are competing for the “sassy daughter” award here. They make mischief, they shirk their chores, they love their mother, but don’t want to obey her when it doesn’t suit them. They’re lively, which makes the death at the end of the act even more painful for us and for their community.
Tisserand is probably the most natural prince of the three Albrechts. You can see right off why Hilarion would be suspicious of him – he’s not a very convincing peasant. Bold and Orza would pass much more easily, but they each have moments where they ‘tell’ as a prince. For Bold, it’s when he tells Wilfride to leave him alone – he’s not incredibly insistent so much as he just expects to be obeyed. For Orza, it’s when he finally takes hold of the sword after Hilarion goads him with it – he’s relaxed and assertive, the weapon is a natural fit in his hand. (I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s done some swordplay or fencing – I think I remember a similar sense in Kylian’s Petit Mort in the opening sections with the foils.)
Bold’s Hilarion is confused – he can’t understand why Giselle doesn’t love him, can’t understand why Loys seems wrong, when he gets caught by the Wilis and condemned by Myrtha he understands too late. Lin-Yee play him like the older man – Giselle is a young girl who just doesn’t know what’s best. Moore’s Hilarion, though, really gave me pause. He loves someone, and has constructed a world in his head where she loves him. When that world cracks open, he’s the saddest person on stage.
Mullin does a lovely job of scaring the dickens out of us as Berthe – she seems to go into a trance as she tells about the curse of the Wilis. Giselle may pretend that she doesn’t believe, but we do -- it’s a truly disturbing moment in the narrative.
Biasucci and Porretta, and Neuville and Griffiths both gave very articulate readings of the peasant pas during the first weekend. There are sequences in there that are massive gut-busters, in the grand Petipa style, but they were quite lovely through it all. As Anna Waller pointed out in her review, they almost represent the impossible happy ending for Giselle and Albrecht – they are what the main characters can never be, something I really hadn’t considered up to now.
Opening weekend we had three Myrthas – all were very affective, but I think Imler really does come closest to the central core of the character. The costume has a tiered skirt, with lavender flower ‘buttons’ down the front – it has a really Victorian sense to it, and I did think of Miss Havisham and her thirst for revenge on all men right away. Imler has a great sense of dignity in roles like this (Lilac Fairy) it extends into her comedic work as well (her wife in The Concert) and even the more wallpapery parts, like the Queen Mother in Swan Lake. She was totally believable as the queen of a band of vengeful ghosts, and that takes some serious acting skills! Dec and Tisserand were also excellent, but didn’t have quite the same sense of doom, or at least not yet.
The second act is looking better and better – the contrast between the almost slapstick humor of the old man and the villagers (needing three hands to count the churchbells and quaking when they realize it’s midnight) and the actual terror when Hilarion realizes he’s caught and cannot escape is much more effective than an unbroken spooky, spooky, spooky vibe. I’m a sucker for old-fashioned stage effects, so the unveiling of the Wilis makes me catch my breath each time. The alternating turns for Giselle and Albrecht build really well – he fading while she goes from strength to strength. When she come rushing in through the corps to shield him from Myrtha after the Wilis drag him in I thought for sure she’d be wearing a superhero “G” on her costume. And her mime at the end of the ballet, turning his hand over and reminding him that he’s promised to someone else, and sending him to Bathilde, is really special. I have a feeling that people who grew up with the more contemporary version of the work might have trouble with this, but it creates a really clear dramatic moment at the end of the ballet for me.
Some miscellaneous thoughts:
I didn’t notice until this time around that the ballet begins and ends with dawn.
Giselle’s opening sequence in the second act, after she’s been summoned by Myrtha, made me think that for someone that’s so in love with dancing, being still in the grave would be the hardest thing ever – whatever the situation, she’s been freed from that prison.
I hadn’t realized how many references there were to hunting in the work – aside from the noble hunting party, and Hilarion’s friends at the beginning of the second act, Myrtha sends the Wilis out to hunt for hapless men.
And finally, if people just listened to Berthe and Wilfride, there wouldn’t be all this trouble.