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Alberta Ballet - Dance preview: Giselle

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For Alberta Ballet patrons, here's an Edmonton Journal article that might be of interest: Dance preview: Alberta Ballet’s production of Giselle a premiere for the company.

Unfortunately, Mariko Kondo, cast to dance the lead on opening night, injured her ankle in the final week of rehearsals and will no longer be able perform. Akiko Ishii steps in now from the rehearsal wings to dance Giselle, alternating with Hayna Gutierrez for the run.


Alberta Ballet’s Giselle features the sets by Gianna Quanranta and costumes by Anna Anni of the American Ballet Theatre.

“It was incredibly humbling when the costumes arrived from New York and inside the costumes are still labelled with all the previous dancers’ names: Mikhail Baryshnikov. Natalia Makarova. Our dancers have some big shoes to fill!”

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The production was mounted by Flavia Vallone, who was Bathilde in La Scala’s most recent film of Giselle. The sets and costumes were borrowed from ABT, sans ramp, rock formations and backdrop of the castle in the distance.


Act 1 is sequenced rationally, except for an abrupt transition from Giselle’s crowning as queen of the harvest into her variation.

The naturalistic mime of Colby Parsons as Hilarion.

The corps de ballet of villagers was completely committed choreographically and dramatically.

The peasant pas de deux is a duet, not a pas de quatre, pas de six or any other kind of group dance. The soaring, elegant performance of Ryo Shimizu in particular does the canonical text complete justice.

During Giselle’s variation Akiko Ishii did not fudge the endings of her turns in attitude, as happens so often. Both Ishii and Hayna Gutierrez did their hops on pointe extremely slowly and entirely successfully, though Ishii’s ronds de jambe were much larger.

Albrecht did react to Giselle wearing Bathilde’s necklace.

Although she was not entirely convincing in Act 1 (no sense of physical or mental frailty), Gutierrez was very fine in Act 2. She has good jumps, lots of stamina, and her balance is exceptional.


During the first group dance Albrecht’s reluctance about joining in is not followed by the usual sequence in which he appears to “learn” the steps. He just launches in full out.

Both Garrett Groat and David Neal looked much too young as the Duke of Courland. The impression created was that he was Bathilde’s boyfriend rather than her father. Some fake beards wouldn’t have gone amiss.

As Myrtha Alexandra Gibson demonstrated a lot of jumping ability, but her ports de bras didn’t conspire to conceal the impact of her landings. (More on that later.)

By necessity there was a corps of 18 rather than 24 wilis. This was not catastrophic, but when they stood single file to create their impenetrable barrier this line was insufficiently long to fill the length of the stage and appear truly intimidating. Also, the usual “Mexican wave”-type port de bras and pivots were eliminated.

At Giselle’s second-act entrance, it was insufficiently clear that she was walking at Myrtha’s command.

The use of orchestras, even good ones, that don't normally play ballet scores often produces a real problem when the adage begins. You'd think that given the paucity of viola solos in the orchestral repertoire a principal viola would be thrilled at the opportunity for a solo turn and prepare accordingly. But it doesn't happen. When the New York City Opera Orchestra accompanied the Paris Opera Ballet a couple of years ago the first few performances of Giselle were absolutely brutal in this regard; only by the final performance did the solo viola begin to sound respectable. What can I say? Practice, practice. However, the violin soloist, presumably Robert Uchida, did a very fine job of Myrtha's entrance.

Ishii was convincing and sympathetic in Act 1. Her mad scene had both physical and dramatic commitment. Her adagio sequences were excellent. Unfortunately, her second-act allegro had an unappealing, choppy quality. I suspect she was the recipient of bad coaching advice. (More on that later.)

Kelley McKinlay as Albrecht did some things very well. Particularly effective was the moment when Hilarion sounded the hunting horn and Albrecht realized the game was up. His lifts were all very strong, though in the adage he did not do the one-handed catch following Giselle's backbend. McKinlay is a good-looking dancer, though curiously unphotogenic, but he is hobbled by very bowed legs, an extremely stiff back and less than ideal posture. His arabesques never look good, and his jumps generally appear labored. He does try very hard and is sincere, his execution here is clean, if not easy, and his dancing is attentive to the music. In this production Albrecht does not get to exit the stage at the conclusion of the second-act pas de deux and has to launch into his entrechats six immediately, followed by more difficult, but visually ineffective batterie. I got the feeling that Vallone had watched too many Pierre Lacotte ballets, but in any case she's produced the longest and most difficult coda for Albrecht I've ever seen. McKinlay did perform the full 32 entrechats six, though they were wiggly through the hips, and all the steps that followed. But there is no getting away from the fact that he lacks the technique, the physique and the requisite manner for the princely roles in which Alberta Ballet persists in casting him.

Dayron Vera has the much nicer legs and vastly superior carriage, his appearance is elegant, if a little pose-y, and he is a good partner. But despite performing 31 entrechats six, he struggled in his variation, and was not terribly attentive to the music. I had not seen him before so was unable to judge whether these were usual technical shortcomings, or whether perhaps he lacked proper fitness. I don’t know how much performing Corella’s company is doing these days.


When the curtain comes up on a bustling village scene, there is a young woman looking out from the window of Loys’ hut.

When Albrecht blows kisses from behind Giselle’s house, he does it while the music is playing rather than during the silences assigned for the purpose, so they can’t be heard.

Least convincing daisy in all creation.

In jumps Vallone seems to encourage dancers to concentrate on lifting their legs rather than on elevation. Pet peeve.

When Albrecht reaches for the hilt of his absent sword during his first confrontation with Hilarion the moment does not register.

The wardrobe department seems to have lost its irons. Not that I would expect peasant girls to have perfectly pressed dresses, but all those wrinkly aprons are an eyesore, and Bathilde’s mangled hem is particularly unsightly.

Berthe’s mime about the wilis is cut, which is too bad, because I suspect Beverley Bagg would have done a terrific job of it.

The blocking of the first-act finale from the moment Giselle falls lifeless is absolutely dreadful. None of it makes sense musically, it is impotent dramatically, and the production is suddenly reduced to the stylized level of a high-school theatrical.

Much of Act 2, unfortunately.

Its overture is mangled.

Pierre Lavoie’s lighting is no more than functional. No atmosphere.

When Hilarion and the gamblers run off, it’s not at all clear why.

Excessive use of dry ice at Myrtha’s entrance. It is done to create the illusion of her emerging from the ground, but it seriously obscures her footwork. Admittedly this is more of a problem at orchestra level than when watching from overhead.

Given that both Skye Balfour-Ducharme and Luna Sasaki danced the part well, it’s a shame that Zulme’s solo was halved.

I am a sucker for Albrecht’s long walk from upstage left to downstage right, the big run around the stage to downstage left, followed by his 180-degree turn toward Giselle’s grave, accompanied by the unfurling of his cape. It’s an indelible part of my Giselle experience, and I mightily resent anyone taking it away from me. So, for example, I don’t care for Peter Wright’s version, which has Albrecht make his entrance behind a fuzzy upstage scrim. But here it’s that much worse. Albrecht enters downstage right and stands, looking at his bouquet. Eventually he runs across to downstage left and looks at his flowers some more. What is that supposed to be?

There don’t seem to be any connections between Giselle’s initial apparitions to Albrecht and his reactions to them, no sense that she appears in a certain place, so his gaze follows her there. Likewise, the moments when she is supposed to elude his grasp are executed incorrectly. If his arm encircles her completely, and she is forced to duck underneath it in order to move away from him, there is most certainly no illusion of her incorporeal being slipping through his fingers.

Poor Hilarion’s death throes are curtailed, which is real shame when he is played by a fine dancer like Jaciel Gomez.

When following Hilarion’s demise the wilis perform their jetés toward the upstage right wings, Vallone gives them an unconventional rhythm. Rather than landing the jumps on the second and fourth beat of the measure, she has them land on the first and third beat. Now, it’s possible that I may be excessively fond of Balanchine’s plié-on-the-downbeat thing, but, frankly, it makes complete sense. When the landing falls on the downbeat, the sequence comes across as leaden. I have no idea what Vallone was hoping to accomplish. Does anyone do it this way?

The text of the pas de deux is respected, but the adagio ends with Albrecht looking in Myrtha’s direction, which creates the unfortunate impression that his looking away from Giselle.

I don’t understand the ending. It assumes a certain verismo quality. Just when Giselle is supposed to be fading away with the dawn, she appears to be at her most corporeal. Giselle and Albrecht stand center stage hugging. As for Albrecht’s final choreography, I’m obviously too obtuse to understand what it’s supposed to mean.

Perhaps in an effort to keep the corps dancing perfectly synchronized, Vallone favors very sharp accents. While this does keep them dancing together, it also looks awkward, forced and unnatural, and has a particularly detrimental effect on the quality of jumps. I think it’s one of those cases of people within a certain area (ballroom dancing, gymnastics, synchronized swimming, even ballet) becoming accustomed to type of movement that looks merely silly to the rest of the world because it’s morphed into a mannerism. Sorry, but I don’t like herky-jerky wilis.

I did not cry at the conclusion of either act, though I am generally a willing weeper, and I place all the blame for that on poor staging choices. The first time around I was mostly baffled by what I was seeing. The second time I was angry about what had been done to the ballet.


The skinny jeans artistic director Jean Grand-Maître wore for his front-of-curtain speeches. Nightmare inducing.

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I'm sorry I haven't seen the PNB version. I'd be curious to see whether any of Vallone's departures from convention are informed by the sort of research that went into Boal's production. Judging by what I remember from PNB's Guggenheim presentation, it doesn't appear to be the case, but I'd love to be able to say for certain.

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I'm sorry I haven't seen the PNB version. I'd be curious to see whether any of Vallone's departures from convention are informed by the sort of research that went into Boal's production. Judging by what I remember from PNB's Guggenheim presentation, it doesn't appear to be the case, but I'd love to be able to say for certain.

I haven't seen the Alberta production, but I know that many of the specifics that went into the production here seem to have been extracted from sources that haven't been used otherwise.

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