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Is "Giselle" dead?

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From the 4th paragraph of the article:

Watching ballerinas pretend to be peasants, happy in their village, and visited by the local prince on a hunting trip, well, it all smacks too obviously of Marie Antoinette dressing up as a shepherdess.

Anybody who writes a sentence like this should not be taken seriously.

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I can see how all those frolicking peasants might be a bit off putting, but Nilsen's conclusions seem facile - I don't think he's thought it through. So the story is 'silly'? There are a lot of operas with 'silly' stories, too - shall we throw them all out?

He covers ballet regularly for the Republic and I've read far worse from some regional critics, however. He has better things to say further on in the article and is looking forward to the Balanchine, so it may just be a matter of taste.

Luckily, if the first act of Giselle is deflated by its incessant mime, the second act takes flight with dance. There is less story to tell, more chance for chorus and soloists to profess terpsichorean joy. And with principal dancers such as Natalia Magnicaballi and Ross Clarke, dance fans can take flight with them. It is a joy to watch them, not just for the large movements, but for the tiny details of hand, finger, even fingertip, the expression of face, the tightness of an entrechat, the magical changing of pace in the midst of a larger gesture - all of which we can appreciate for its artistry.

The chorus of wilis - the ghosts of Giselle's second act - especially provide the kind of massed movement that make the whole stage into a vast canvas, sweeping like brushstrokes across it, painting counterpoint in movement.

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Half the article reads like a political tract in the guise of a ballet review, and the writer's sweeping pronouncements are pretty presumptuous. "Mime is an outmoded convention" and 'the whole social underpinning of the 19th-century tradition no longer means anything to us"? Some of us D/democrats still understand how people could revere the institution of royalty as a vehicle for symbolizing a nation's ideals. As for ballerinas pretending to be peasants, acting lower class is not synonymous with slumming, of enjoying lower class pleasures with an ironic, supercilious class attitude: class distinctions don't preclude empathy and respect. Plenty of dancers come from working class beginnings anyhow. Isn't Jennie Somogyi's father an auto mechanic? Farrell certainly didn't come from money. And having just seen the original, silent, version of the film "Peter Pan" this weekend, I, for one, can still be moved by old acting conventions.

I'd love to see Magnicaballi as Giselle.

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As several have suggested, there's much to lament in this review. Style, tone, even sentence structure -- not to mention the puerile quality of the historical and political references -- suggest thst Mr. Nilsen was reading the Mad Magazine parody of Giselle when he should have been looking at the ballet and listening to the music.

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I don't find the story outmoded, and the social structure persists in American high schools, and elsewhere. We (in America) just don't use the titles of aristocracy. Doesn't mean we don't have one.

Sophomore girl and new, hunky, football-hero senior start a flirtation. He leads her on. She, who hangs with one of the not-quite-cool cliques, is smitten and doesn't know that he's really going steady with a long-time girlfriend in the next town, from where he transferred.

One day, his cover is blown, girl flies into a rage, gets depressed, etc., etc.

The funny thing is, the part Nilsen likes involves other-worldly spirit beings, which some people may dismiss as "not real." :blush:

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I think he’s objecting more to the first act than the second, but on somewhat inconsistent grounds, as noted.

I don’t like to come down too hard on critics outside the big cities, they have enough problems as it is these days, and often their writing is better than anything else in their paper outside the sports pages. Obviously, Nilsen wouldn't make fun of Hamlet. But part of the critic's function is to explain to his readership why 'Giselle' has survived for so long - by ballet standards at any rate - and the function of metaphor and symbol in an otherwise 'simple' story,and so forth.

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But Phoenix is a big city, and one that's growing rapidly (I think it's 6th now; not sure about that, but it's definitely in the top 10). And it's trying to upgrade, for lack of a better word, it's fine arts -- museums, the symphony, opera and theater, as well as the ballet. This review probably won't hurt the company -- the writer bends over backwards to say how good the production was -- but for all the people who read it who also don't know anything about ballet, it reinforces the "ballet is old and dead and dumb" idea that was rampant in this country in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. (I spent 5 years reading reviews of companies on cross-country tours. They're written by people who knew nothing about ballet -- but did know, as dirac notes above, that it was their responsibility to explain to the readership why this company they'd never heard of was bringing this thing they'd never heard of. )

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Reginald Bunthorne (W.S. Gilbert) said it first:

And everyone will say,

As you walk your mystic way,

If that's not good enough for him, which is good enough for me,

Why what a very cultivated kind of youth this kind of youth must be.

Except that the "Æsthetics" maintained that everything "modern" was garbage, because:

Art stopped short in the cultivated court of the Empress Josephine.

Nilsen's æsthetic is the new, the hip, the "Post-Modern".

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Being postmodern doesn't mean being ignorant of the past, though (speaking to Mel's answer above). I'm told Merce Cunningham loves "Giselle." He just doesn't want to make another one.

Marc, thank you for coming in on this one. I'm curious, would this review be possible in the European papers with which you are familiar? This is really the editors' doing rather than the writer's. American newspapers aren't hiring arts critics these days, and often send someone to review performances/events outside of his or her specialty. I've been told by friends in Copenhagen and Paris that arts criticism is also focused on movies and rock music. In London, this does not seem to be the case. What's your take on the issue?

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Being postmodern doesn't mean being ignorant of the past, though (speaking to Mel's answer above). I'm told Merce Cunningham loves "Giselle." He just doesn't want to make another one.

That's just why I sanitized the term in quotes. I suspect he's no more PoMo than I am, and was sent over from the music desk, or more likely, the automotive desk, to cover ballet. If you don't know squat about something, say, "It stinks", and you are on your way to becoming an Arbiter of Taste.

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Characters in Shakespeare speak in verse. The Scarlet Letter has Puritans in it, and its author was born decades after the Colonial Period in which it is set had ended. There's all of that recitative accompanied by that silly old harpsichord -- how 18th century -- not to mention noblemen and women in Don Giovanni. Charlie Chaplin and Jaques Tati made silent movies.

We don't go to King Lear and expect Tom Stoppard. We don't read The Scarlet Letter and expect The Crucible. We don't go to Don Giovanni and expect Wagner. We don't go to M. Hulot's Holiday expecting to see Robin Williams.

Obviously, Nilsen wouldn't make fun of Hamlet.

Of course he wouldn't ask us to just toss Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Mozart, and Chaplin into the trash bin, at least in print.

Sadly, he gives no such respect to one of the great classics of ballet.

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I'm still trying to deconstruct this fascinating review.

It does seem deeply felt, as though Nilsen is getting something off his chest that's long been bothering him.

We've been focusing on the negative bits. Giselle is a "rellic of an extinct zeitgeist" It has an "antiquated and superannuated feel." The story line, especially in Act I, expresses an "anti-democrataic bias." The mime has become "degraded into sentimental piffle." The ballet is "better left in its grave."

This alternates with statements that are actually quite positive. "[T]he current production is very well danced ... and ... supported by great scenery, costumes, lighting and staging." "it is a joy to watch them .. " "many exceptional dancers" "perhaps the state's beset performing arts organization"

This flows out over the page in an agitated manner. Nilsen wields phrases and allusions -- negative alternating with postiive -- rather like Don Quixote wacking left and right with his lance. You have to admit it: he cares.

Arizona does not get many ballet productions in the course of a season. (Ballet Arizona's 5 programs consist of: Giselle, Nutcracker, Don Quixote, Mixed Bill, and All-Balanchine.) Possibly Mr. Nilsen resents the time and money that have been spent on Giselle which could have been devoted to more of the contemporary, pure dance work that fits his notion of what ballet needs to be in order to survive.

Mr. Nilsen definitely loves dance. But, somehow, he has not considered the possibility that a great art form needs to preserve its traditions at the same time that it is creating new work. Both are "relevant." And both are worthy of respect.

I found myself, after reading the piece a second time, hoping that Ballet Arizona gives him the epiphany he yearns for -- and that the mixed and all-Balanchine programs brings Mr. Nilsen back to his faith that "Dance and ballet is [sic] the primary metaphor of our experience in our bodies."

P.S. Just how much mime IS there in this production?

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P.S. Just how much mime IS there in this production?

I don't think there's any more than any other production -- there certainly aren't any reconstituted scenes added. But I don't think this writer is comparing this production to others he has seen. I think he's just reacting to something that seems very strange to him.

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I've seen longer and shorter versions of Berthe's Wili speech. I don't know which version Ballet Arizona uses. But that's the only example I can think of where the mime's meaning might not be immediately understandable, where it might seem like an obstacle to the flow of the dancing.

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I read the review of Ballet Arizona's "Giselle" in the Arizona Republic (thanks to dirac's Link) and was surprised to learn that "Giselle" should no longer be performed. Nothing wrong with the production -- if only we could see them in something meaningful!!!! But "Giselle"?

Nearly the entire review is devoted to how worthless the writer thinks the work is

OMG, :( back off, Satan! if my beloved Mme. Alonso :jawdrop: read this, then i bet it would be fallowed by the most dramatic maddness/death scene ever experienced, but a real one, via Myocardial Infarction!

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Hello All,

Ian here from Ballet AZ. Let me put this all to rest. The version we performed was a la Erik Bruhn. There is a wonderful DVD of it with Bruhn/Fracci/Marks that you can watch if you would like to see the mime. Many people have a problem with this DVD but it is the only one, IMO, that truly is emotionally artistic. Anyways...

The audience responded very well to the show as they always do. Since I was only in the first act, I got to hear many comments from the audience as they left and they were extremely impressed with everything. So Mr. Nilsen has an opinion like everyone else. We can all agree to disagree. I am glad he said what he said because it caused such a debate as to whether classical ballet is relevant anymore. I, of course, think it is, but he may like other things and that is fine. But to say that the story is not relevant anymore, that is what I have a problem with and everyone has already stated their thoughts on this already with which I agree.

BTW, our rep program coming up in April is two weekends of two different programs. So we are actually doing 6 programs this year! Slowly but surely we are getting there!!!


Thanks guys!

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