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Ballet de Marseille, "Giselle", May 21

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The Ballet de Marseille, created by Roland Petit, has been lead for two

seasons by the former Paris Opera Ballet principal Marie-Claude

Pietragalla. In the last two seasons, their repertory has been

mostly contemporary, with works by Claude Brumachon, Maryse Delente,

Richard Wherlock... The only real "classical" ballets they had danced

until now in two seasons were Balanchine's "Who cares" and Rudi Van

Dantzig's "Romeo and Juliet" last season, so I was wondering what

they would look like in a romantic work such as "Giselle".

Pietragalla chose to commission a new production to the

POB premier danseur Eric Quillere. As far as I know, Quillere,

in his mid-30s, is an experienced dancer, but has little experience

of ballet staging. And this "Giselle" was not very convincing, in my opinion.

Some new sets and costumes were commissionned to the painter

Rodolfo Natale. Around 1992, Patrick Dupond had commissionned

new sets and costumes for "Giselle" at the POB; the minimalist

sets and the costumes inspired by traditional Brittany had

caused much trouble among the critics and part of the audience,

and were to be replaced a few years later by more traditional

ones, after Benois' production for the Ballets Russes. Well,

I wonder what the people who were shocked by that Paris version

would have said about the Marseille one...

Quillere decided to substitute a somewhat "modern" context to the usual

one, and so the sets of the first act showed a vilage in an unidentified

country, with a kind of workshop on the left (Giselle's father -yes, she

has a father- is supposed to work there) and a bar (with a pool table) on

the right, the background looked more or less like a painting by Edward

Hopper (which was quoted in the program notes as one of the inspirations

of Natale). Giselle wore a yellow dress, Albrecht had a fancy red suit,

and the people of the village wore everyday clothes with shiny colors.

Well, all that was quite surprising, but could have been acceptable, but I

found that many details of that production were lacking coherence: for

example, the mixed colors and shapes of the dancers' clothes in the first

act broke the symmetry of the dances, and for me it was quite strange

to see people with such "modern" outfit dancing the usual Romantic-style

variations... Also, while Bathilde and her friends were supposed to

belong to a higher social class, it was not really obvious from their

outfit; it took a while to notice that the men had ties and some

women had small pearl necklaces. The second act was a bit more

traditional, but Albrecht still had his red suit (a strange colorfor a mourning man on a grave, indeed!), and the Willis' white dresses

were not exactly tutus, and were less ethereal and elegant in my opinion.

Some details of the action were modified too: Giselle has no mother,

but a father (and, instead of the usual mime scene, it just looks

like "ah, that girl will drive me crazy, she shouldn't go out with

that boy", while some videos of Willis are shown on the background);

there is no peasant pas de deux (it's replaced with ensemble

scenes), there are some pas de deux between Bathilde and Albrecht

(and Bathilde seems a bit Odile-like, doing her best to seduce

a somewhat stupid Albrecht), the relationships between Hilarion

and Albrecht are quite violent, and so are those between Bathilde

and Giselle (it reminded me a little bit of Ek's version, but

looked quite out of place in this version)... Also the mad

scene takes place only between a few characters (Giselle, Albrecht

-about as expressive as a turnip, waking up only after she's dead-,

Giselle's father, and Hilarion), which made it less dramatic in

my opinion. Hozever, fortunately Quillere didn't change the main choreographic parts,

and the ensemble dance he added seemed stylistically correct to me.

The main role was danced by Marie-Claude Pietragalla herself (as usual,

most of the advertisement was very Pietragalla-centered -one almost feels

likely to think that someday she'll rename the company "Ballet PIETRAGALLA

National de PIETRAGALLA Marseille PIETRAGALLA"...). I was a bit worried

about it, because her main successess with the POB were roles such as

Kitri or Carmen, or contemporary pieces, and I had trouble imagining

her in a romantic role. Eventually she was average: rather convincing

in the first act, except that she was perhaps a bit too childish,

and her mad scene was so expressionnistic that it became somewhat

embarrassing to watch; her second act was sometimes lacking poetry.

Technically she was good, except a diagonal in the first act that

I've always seen with pointes and that she did with demi-pointes

(but I don't know the names of the steps).

Her Albrecht was Julien Lestel, a former dancer of the POB corpsde ballet and of the Zurich Ballet. He had beautiful elegant arms

and good jumps, but seemed a bit too unexperienced sometimes.

Hilarion was danced by Julien Derouault, with a somewhat "soundless

movie evil traitor" exaggerated style, but with good jumps

in the second act. Valentina Pace, a handsome blond-haired, long-legged

dancer, was perfect as Bathilde, with a beautiful smooth style and

a great port de tete; her Myrtha was a bit less impressive, but still

quite good. Gilles Porte and Angelo Vergari, as Giselle's friends,

jumped impressively, and Thierry Hauswald was an expressive Giselle's


In general, I was happily surprised by the corps de ballet: while they had

not danced much ballet in the previous seasons, their training seemed

quite good, with a good timing in the ensemble parts, nice bodies and feet

for all of them, and also some good acting in the first act. It seems to

indicate some good work by Quillere and by the new ballet master, Bruno

Cauhape (former POB dancer).

In spite of the unusual (and, to me, often unlogical) aspects of this

production, the audience was enthusiastic at the end (definitely

more than with the last mixed bill I had attented), and the

dancers received several bows. The orchestra, conducted by David

Garforth, was part of the success too. Let's hope that it will encourage the company to stage more classical ballets in the next seasons!

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Well, if their idea of "classical ballet" is productions like this, I hope someone is telling the audience what they're seeing smile.gif

Thanks for your review, Estelle, and for you patience in writing in such detail. It sounds, unfortunately, like a production staged by a young man looking for what to do when his technique starts to go who's never given "Giselle" more than a passing thought. Giselle has a father? What possible reason for that, except to be "different"? (The colors, too, may not seem important, but I think Giselle's dress is always blue, not because it's always been blue, but because the color blue was related to hero/heroine, and it was a way of setting her apart.)

I think your point about time and music is a good one, too. It's the problem I have with Dance Theatre of Harlem's "Giselle" (which, in some seasons, has been, I think, very well danced). It's grape picking music, not cotton picking music, and when the stage picture clashes with the music, the incongruity interferes with the drama.

Probably Mats Ek has had an influence in an unintended way. While his was a real rethinking of the ballet -- from a point of view inside the ballet, as it were, knowing it well and understanding it, and commenting on it -- the after-Ek "Giselles" just take notions and sprinkle them on top of the ballet. (I also loved your observation about Pietragalla's place on the posters.)


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Estelle, You had mentioned that the same ballerina danced Bathilde and Mirtha in the same performance. Was it done on propose?


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Estelle, I enjoyed your review, and I look forward to seeing this production when the Ballet de Marseilles tours Hong Kong and Macau in 2 weeks' time.

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Andrei- in both casts, it was the same dancer who danced both Bathilde and Myrtha, so it seems to be on purpose. However, there was no real dramatic reason for that, so that was another detail that looked somewhat unlogical to me. Or perhaps they were lacking good female dancers for that role? But that seems unlikely (that's quite a large company, and there were two casts for most roles). By the way, in that version Bathilde came back at the very end of act II and seemed to comfort Albrecht (but if I remember correctly, it happens also in some traditional productions).

Alexandra- well, I'm not sure the audience really knows what they're seeing, unfortunately... frown.gif Paradoxically, since Pietragalla arrived in Marseille, much of the advertising has been done on "Pietragalla, la grande danseuse classique de l'Opera" (and much of the audience seems to come to the performances mostly to see her) while she has danced mostly contemporary roles... Also I think that perhaps one of the reasons for such "modernized" versions is that non-specialized newspapers are unlikely to write more than a few lines about a "traditional" staging of "Giselle" or "Swan Lake", while they often spend pages raving about Mr X's fancy new sets and the new costumes by fashion designer Mr Z (generally paying little attention to dance itself...)

The previous "Giselle" I had seen was Monique Loudieres (with Andrei Fedotov) with the Ballet de Nancy, and well, it was in a different category. smile.gif

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