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Guillem's Giselle

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Last night I saw Giselle at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Southern California. I had an OK seat in the orchestra section - too far to the right so part of stage right was blocked by the curtain.

After I came home I watched parts of the La Scala film version with Ferri and Murru so that I could make some comparisons between the traditional version and Sylvie’s.

It is hard to do that with only one viewing of the newer Giselle, but here are my first impressions.

It seems to me that when a choreographer is going to rework a classic, the resulting work should be more than just different.

It should bring a new emotion to the piece, a new aesthetic. To be innovative and not just dissimilar.

This version did not meet that criteria.

Evidently Sylvie was trying to achieve a more realistic look at the ballet.

Well, a piece with dead girls dancing is not a realistic ballet to begin with!

Hilaire broke his foot in rehearsal so had to be replaced by Murru - who was great as Albrecht. I thought his performance was much better than on Wednesday night in Carmen.

His line was long and elegant with terrific jumps, neat feet and graceful hands that were not wimpy.

Hilarion, Andrea Volpintesta, was also very good - in the small amount of dance he did. His opening scene was lost behind a scrim and bad, bad lighting, which remained rather dim the whole ballet.

Sylvie danced beautifully, but not memorably, if that makes sense. Her choreography in Act I is almost ballet-lite - rather simplistic with many 180-degree, 'six o'clock' leg lifts. Impressive the first few times you see it, but then too much of a good thing is not a good thing.

At first I thought the lack of dance in the first act was so that Sylvie could show off more - nope, she didn't do that either!

The main set was drab — a movable thing that made a shallow stage even more shallow in the first act. It swung around and I could never figure out WHY! It was very annoying.

One side was Giselle’s front door and I think the other side was meant to be the opposite side of the street, it was hard to tell.

So what you had was a wide set piece that split the stage in half depth wise; drastically reducing the amount of actual dance space. Traditional would have been better here.

At the end of Act One the flat piece opened up into a three-sided tavern - which was pretty neat - bottles hanging down from the air added a “pub” feel to it.

If the set was drab then the costumes were more so. I read that the dresses and such were created by some big designer. Well, they were simply ugly. Bad hats and scarves covering up the girls hair.

They looked like the dresses my great-grandmother would have worn tilling the fields in the wild west.

No colour. Nothing to make them stand apart from the set. It all blended together in one brownish mush. Even Sylvie’s blue dress was drab.

The dancers wore NO makeup — which was ok if one was in the orchestra section of the house, but those poor people up in the tiers must not have been able to see any facial expressions I'll bet.

In comparing last night’s version with the film, much dance was left out - not nearly as much peasant dancing in the opening.

The wonderful peasant pdd by Deborah Gismondi and Antonio Sutera was reduced to one solo each. The dancers were very good in the limited amount of space they had but the few lifts and jumps were constrained.

Evidently Sylvie reduced the amount of mime to make for a cleaner story - but it didn’t really work all that well. Hard to tell what was going on if one didn’t know the story.

The loves me-loves me not flower scene was so understated and quick you could hardly see what was happening. Again I wonder what the folks in the tiers could see.

During the very long intermission ( they had to chance floors) I talked with several people. They like what they saw but were not hugely impressed ... one guy said, lots of motion, but not a lot of dance.

The applause was respectful, but not overwhelming.

Act II.

The stage was littered with these big faux boulders— three Wilis danced out among them — nice floating bourees.

Their costumes were quite lovely - variations on different wedding dresses. Very effective.

The three girls danced a bit and the rocks rose - up and up and up and there they hung. They blocked some of the light that was supposed to be on the dancers!

The corps and queen Wilis (Beatrice Carbone) actually had the best dance!

This was one part that I liked better than the traditional version. The Wilis’ movements were more lyrical and less rigid than in the film.

The theater had lighting problems in the second act. One key light wouldn’t stay on and another side/back light kept flashing just off-stage making it look as if the scene had poor lightning effects happening.

One of the things Guillem could have changed for the better would have been less walking around in the mourning scene of Act II

The Ferri version has Albrecht entering and walking around emoting to beautiful music in the Act II opening.

Last night the walking around seems to have been increased and there was less emoting.

This would have been a great opportunity for Guillem to add some poignant adagio dancing for Albrecht.

Technical problems caused the ending of the ballet to lose some of its impact. One of the smoke machines at the end made so much hissing noise it totally disrupted the tragic flow. Very disconcerting to say the least.

Lest I sound too negative, all in all I am glad I went. There was good dance - just too little of it.

I saw Sylvie dance and that was a treat because she is such a name. There were some good moments but just not enough to go WOW.

There was a long standing ovation at the end which told me that people really appreciated the second act. Murru was especially treated well as was Guillem.

My sense is that this is a somewhat condensed version of the traditional. And shorter in this case does not mean better.

also posted on ballet.co and critical dance

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Thanks for posting it here, too, lara (and for taking the time to write such a nice, long detailed review). I'm certainly in your corner when it comes to new versions of the classics. I think your statement: "It seems to me that when a choreographer is going to rework a classic, the resulting work should be more than just different" should be embroidered on a pillow and sent to several artistic directors!

I'll be interested to see if the Orange County reviewers did as much homework as you did :(

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I'm at a loss for words. Lara said lots of them for me...and thanks. The program says, "Choreography by Sylvie Guillem after Marius Petipa, Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot" That should have read, "Waaaaay after!" At the end of Act One I was almost in tears I was so upset. This was not "Giselle", not even close. Lara explained that rotating set perfectly; it cut the stage in half and you knew you were going to miss half of something. Not only were the costumes drab but the women wore brown socks that came to mid calf. Forget about line. I have "Giselle" memorized, and few adaptations mess with tradition. Not only was the dancing foreign but at times the music was too. Traditional "Giselle" has some wonderful solos in Act I for Giselle; this "Giselle" had one extremely short one. Gone were those beautiful double pirouettes in attitude. The peasant pdd was unrecognizable though very well danced. Part of the beauty of "Giselle" (and ballet) is knowing the choreography, anticipating it, and comparing it to others you've seen. Some of the characterizations upset me. When Berte warns Giselle of dancing and the Wilies, Giselle, Albrecht, and half the townspeople laugh at her behind her back. Act II was only a tad better. The women were in white, and there were a few (very few) recognizable snippets of dance.

Guillem. I thought the choreography was so toned down that it failed to show why Guillem is so beloved. Did she do this because she is slowing down, something I don't want to believe? Her mad scene was excellent. She has the best bows and after-performance routine I've seen. Other than that, it was a sad evening. Sad because it wasn't "Giselle" and sad because it wasn't Guillem.

Right, Lara?


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Giannina, I've heard dancers comment that Guillem has always simplified choreography. I was surprised by that, because she's usually put in the "supertechnician" category, but dancers should know :(

Lara, I genuinely meant what I wrote -- thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed review. It was not intended to be a sarcastic comment meaning "write shorter next time." :)

[ 07-15-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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>>I genuinely meant what I wrote -- thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed review. It was not intended to be a sarcastic comment meaning "write shorter next time."<<

Oh I know you did! But after I posted I read an article on how to write a review - and mine was just so much longer than suggested! Thank you for your sweetness though.


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From the New York Times:

"For the traditional mad scene that closes Act I, when Giselle discovers that Albrecht is already betrothed, Ms. Guillem has even substituted acting for dancing before Giselle expires.

"She refuses to express such terrible pain through dancing," Dominique Frétard wrote in Le Monde in Paris after seeing the production in Helsinki. "Giselle simply snaps and is paralyzed. All she can do is weep. It is a scene that gives you goose bumps."

Well, this about says it all. This is one of the most arrogant statements I have ever read. "Refuses to express such pain through dancing"

People go to the ballet to see DANCE. Not to see the ballerina forgo dance for paralyzed weeping. Guillem has totally missed the boat on this one.

>>>Not only were the costumes drab but the women wore brown socks that came to mid calf.<<

In the preview the speaker explained that those were actually pointe BOOTS. Not slippers with brown socks, although that describes them perfectly.

You are not the first person that has told me about Guillem's curtain calls, but I didn't see anything radical about them. She did the deep curtsy thing with hand to heart as did the other women. Is this different than other ballerinas?

It sounds as if the experience was worse for you than me because you know Giselle so well.


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In Guillem's mad scene I didn't notice that dancing stopped any more than it does in other Giselle's. You've got some memories of dances with Albrecht...that's about it other than staggering, wandering about.

Those "dancing boots" still looked like pointe shoes with knee hose over them. I have super binoculars. I'm going to see this again in London (did anyone know I'm going to London?!) so I'll try to remember to give them a closer look. Lord knows I'm not going to be rivited by the choreography.

What I liked about Guillem's curtain calls was not the bowing itself but her attitude. She was happy; she was smiling! Not, "Oh, I'm so humble and you're so appreciative; thaaaank you!; nor, "Who, me?" It was, "We had one heck of a time dancing for you and let's share our enjoyment." When she brought out the conductor she simply beamed. Lovely.

In all fairness to Guillem, I'm going to view this production with a new attitude while in London. I know what to expect; I'll accept it for what it is and probably enjoy it a lot more.

Won't I?


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Giannina (sorry for misspelling your name earlier)

>>In all fairness to Guillem, I'm going to view this production with a new attitude while in London. I know what to expect; I'll accept it for what it is and probably enjoy it a lot more.

Won't I?>>

Absolutley! Maybe. I hope.

Have a wonderful time in England no matter what.


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No dancing........knee socks.......spinning sets, you're frightening me! Surely it can't be that bad? I can't wait to see it in London now, I usually like ballets that nobody else does so maybe I will think it fantastic. Which performance are you going to Giannina?

Does anybody know if Hilaire's foot is actually broken or just injured? I was very much looking forward to seeing him dance.

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>>Does anybody know if Hilaire's foot is actually broken or just injured? I was very much looking forward to seeing him dance.<<

In the preview before the ballet, the narrator said that he broke two bones in his foot, was in a cast and would not be dancing the rest of the tour.

Odd circumstance. He wasn't actually dancing but was being pulled off Giselle's body by his friend at the end of Act l when feet got tangled up with other feet and broke the bones.


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Poor Laurent Hilaire is very bad lucky indeed! :( He had already got injured around september 2000 during a POB tour in Milano and almost didn't dance this season (I think he just danced in the Robbins program and in "Romeo and Juliet", and now he's injured again! :( (And Nicolas Le Riche is injured too, and won't be dancing until september. Not a good period for POB principals...)

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Originally posted by Giannina Mooney:


I sent you an e-mail; hope I had the correct address.[]

Amy, I also tried to e-mail you last week to ask you something, but I probably don't have your new address. Could you please e-mail me at -


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