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Giselle (season 2018/2019)

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I attended last night's repremiere of Hübbe and Schandorff's new version of Giselle and it was an experience that truly made up for the traveling time between Aarhus and Copenhagen - and doing said traveling on a workday. 


The premiere cast was as following:


Holly Dorger as Giselle

Jonathan Chmelensky as Albrecht

Emma Riis-Kofoed as Myrtha (she's only a corps dancer!)

Jón Axel Fransson as Hilarion

Astrid Elbo and Elenora Morris as two wilies

Silvia Selvini and Alexander Bozinoff in the peasant pas de deux

Christina Michanek as Bathilde

Mette Bødtcher as Bertha, Giselle's mother


It was a beautiful performance, it really was. Overall, the corps was very sharp and in sync, so the dancing looked wonderful both in the peasant dances of act 1 and as danced by the wilies in act 2, but most importantly all dancers had found a unique perspective on their characters that when combined made up a full, believable story. As they presented this to the audience, it became very moving and I wasn't the only one on first row to shed a tear by the end.


Dorger carried the title role very well and both acted and danced a tender, sweet, weak-hearted girl in the first act as well as a sorrow-filled, enduring and forgiving wili in the second act. Her partnership with Chmelensky was true perfection, a match made in heaven, even more so than when I saw them dance Swan Lake together earlier this year. They had made this ballet theirs. In the first act, Dorger's mime made people chuckle several times, for example the scene where she sits down on the bench and arranges her dress, so there's no room for Albrecht. Audible chuckling was heard all around me, her naivety and sweetness was just so endearing. I saw her in her debut as Giselle last time (where she was still in my opinion the best Giselle out of the three, I saw all casts that season), but her portrayal of the girl in act one especially has softened around the edges and gained a more romantic appearance which was lovely. Especially the way she portrayed Giselle being in love with Albrecht was heartfelt and very tender with moments where Giselle seemed lost in her own emotions on stage, little glimpses of truly great acting. All this sweetness and softness made her mad scene even more gut-wrenching. It was a beautiful show. Dorger's eyes reflected how her character delved deeper and deeper inside of her own chasms and her movements grew more and more frantic, harsh and desperate. She spoke with her body first. The leaps she makes toward the end of the mad scene were both very violent and very moving. In Chmelensky's arms, as he lifts her up at the end, she grows completely stiff as if in rigor mortis already which was such an effective way to signal her death. In her mother's arms afterwards, she was limp. Unresponsive. Life had left her body completely. However good Dorger was in the first act, however, she was better, even better in the second. I thought the was an ethereal, mournful and most importantly, forgiving wili. Again, her partnership with Chmelensky in the pas de deux was emotional and deep-felt, convincing me that theirs, Albrecht's and Giselle's, was a love that could win over even the cold hearts of the wilis and their queen. The final part where the bell is heard and all the wilis (plus Myrtha) bow down to Giselle in circles around her, it felt like Giselle's love had raised her above, that she now was their queen, it was a side to the story I had never noticed before and I liked this interpretation very much. It made the entire second act seem a more coherent part of the ballet and not just a white act shoved onto the end of the story. All in all the final scenes between Dorger's Giselle and Chmelensky's Albrecht were heart-wrenchingly beautiful in their execution and as I said, I wasn't the only one to cry. I could hear sobbing and sniffling in the darkness. All Giselle's main choreography in act two were well-danced by Dorger, but I have to give special mention to her solos that are danced to save Albrecht, there was so much will and hope and desperation in these dances that I felt them deep within my chest, once more the partnership between Chmelensky and Dorger added to their respective choreography and gave them purpose, meaning. It was amazing.


Chmelensky has quickly become my favorite male dancer at the RDB and after seeing him tackle Siegfried beautifully, I had high hopes for his Albrecht. He didn't disappoint. Actually, I can honestly say that out of all the Albrechts I've seen so far in my balletomane career, DVDs, live performances, everything, he has by far been the most wonderful. His interpretation was a very smitten Albrecht in the first act - not in a Romeo and Juliet way, fortunately, but in the way that he truly seems to love Giselle for being an escape from court life and his betrothal to Bathilde. He's slightly restrained in the beginning of the first act, but grows more and more free throughout, until the hunting party arrive and he manages to show what kind of man Albrecht is "at home". Arrogant and cold. His "thoughts of fancy" gesture when he's asked why he's dressed like a peasant is so cold-hearted and with a set jaw that it actually hurt me a little to watch, ouch. This contrasting shift is so sudden and harsh that it seems only logical that it would trigger Giselle's mad scene. When he breaks down completely at seeing Giselle dead, I really felt how he hadn't considered that behind the pastoral facade of the village that he had so exploited was beating a human heart that could break and that he has now lost the woman he truly loved. Excellent interpretation, excellent acting and very subtly done. But even Chmelensky only got better by act two. We are met by an Albrecht who has taken responsibility for what he's done and seeks forgiveness. There's a lovely moment as he walks through the graveyard where he seems to make ready to turn around before delivering the flowers to her grave, but then steels himself... In act two, Chmelensky's Albrecht seeks forgiveness continuously and never stops regretting what he's done. It's a very sympathetic character and I suddenly understand why Giselle forgives him, something that isn't always the case with this ballet for me. Once more, he partners Dorger beautifully, especially their first high lift was prolonged, well-balanced and effortless to look at. The best part of the ballet, however, and definitely the part that got the loudest applause from the audience was Albrecht's death dance solo. It was spectacular! It was equal parts technique and pathos. This was where Chmelensky's Albrecht became a person, a struggling, breathing, living person, not just a character or a role. From then on out, the entire ballet breathed life into its lungs and rose above all other versions I've seen. In the final scene, Chmelensky managed to emphasize Dorger's airiness by standing in the middle of the stage and hugging empty air after Giselle withdraws back into the shadows. It was heart-wrenching and this was probably the moment that had me losing some composure. It's only fitting that his Albrecht is the last thing we see, because Chmelensky made it clear with his dancing and his acting why Albrecht is the first main character we're introduced to on stage and the final vision on stage before the curtain goes down. The ballet may be named Giselle, but it's also about his journey, as much as it's about Giselle's. I've never seen this more clearly than I did Friday night. All because of this one dancer.


The casting around the two mains was also very good. Jon Axel Fransson made an excellent, strong Hilarion with a punch of a death scene. Christina Michanek was a beautiful, subtly acted Bathilde with incredibly clear miming. Astrid Elbo was amazing as one of the two wilies, an ethereal expression with some strong, very floaty dancing.


Emma Riis-Kofoed's Myrtha was another reason the story made a greater whole for me this evening. She was a very young, kind of agitated Myrtha and especially in her interaction with the other characters, she gained strength and purpose within the story. The way she sent Hilarion to his death was chilling and her reactions to Giselle's love for Albrecht, perplexed, fearful even, suddenly made me understand that these emotions as much as the sunrise made Giselle and Albrecht win that battle. With time, Riis-Kofoed will undoubtedly gain the experience and security as a dancer to fill out Myrtha's solos, but Friday night - although they were well danced - she didn't quite take the stage to the same degree as I have seen some of our principal women do. However, I did think she did a fine job both with the choreography as with the acting and she fit into the cast as a whole like a hand in a glove. 


So, all in all, I thought it was one of the best evenings I've had at the ballet in a long time and I definitely liked this interpretation of Giselle's story better than what the last Giselle run produced. Even the costumes and sets - that seemed crowded and eyesore last time - functioned very well this time around, beautiful lighting and the big doors in act two finally came to their right and made sense.


Did anyone else go see the production on Friday or Saturday?

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