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'Giselle' from Paris

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J. Homans, Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet
Giselle is one of the hinge works of the history of ballet. As Jennifer Homans puts it, in her comprehensive history of the genre, "La Sylphide and Giselle are bookends," works that grafted Romanticism onto the branch of Renaissance and Baroque ballet, creating the art form that we recognize today. "La Sylphide and Giselle were the first modern ballets," she continues. "We feel we know them because they are still performed, although in much-changed versions, but there is more to it than that. The French Romantics invented ballet as we know it today." So this week's visit by the Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris to the Kennedy Center, performing their classic Giselle seen last night, was naturally one of the highlights of the summer.

As familiar as this ballet seems, the choreography has a very complex history. The original choreography was by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, in Paris in 1841, where the ending, as described by Homans, was a bit different from the version we know today. Carlotta Grisi created the title role, and Lucien Petipa created the role of Albrecht, a significant point because Lucien's brother, Marius Petipa, revived and modified the ballet in St. Petersburg, first in 1884, and refined it over the next two decades. It was in that form that Giselle came back to Paris, where the ballet had disappeared from the repertory, because Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes brought the Petipa version back to Paris in 1910. For that reason the Paris version, last updated by Patrice Bart and Eugène Polyakov in 1991, has much in common with the latest incarnation from the Mariinsky Ballet, seen last year at the Kennedy Center.

This was the first Washington appearance of Paris étoile Aurélie Dupont (the company last came to the United States in 1996), who was also an "incredibly captivating" lead in La Bayadère this season, according to dance critic Ariane Bavelier in Le Figaro. While Dupont's Giselle is not yet in the same class as the Mariinsky's star, Diana Vishneva, she brought some virtuosic dancing and remarkable dramatic power to the title role. Her shy hesitations in the love duet in Act I, partnered with the strong, tall Albrecht of Mathieu Ganio, were timed perfectly to the longing phrases of the score by Adolphe Adam. So innocent and frail, Dupont produced a mad scene that was not so much manic as fainting, making the ghostly echoes of the love scene in Act II, with a remembrance of the same music, even more tragic. Transformed into a Wili, the spectral shade of a jilted brides -- the inspiration for the libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier came from the poems of Heinrich Heine -- Dupont was like something made of air. Ganio's Albrecht, earnest and bewildered, could seemingly catch her for a moment, but her body moved liked wisps of vapor in his arms.

Other Reviews:

Roslyn Sulcas, Visitors From France, Elegant and Precise (New York Times, July 8)

Robert Johnson, Ballet with a French twist: Paris Opera Ballet makes its long-awaited return (Newark Star-Ledger, July 7)

Sarah Kaufman, Paris Opera Ballet’s ‘Giselle’ soars at Kennedy Center (Washington Post, July 7)

---, ‘Giselle’ ends Paris Opera Ballet’s 19-year absence from the Kennedy Center (Washington Post, June 29)

Sid Smith, Paris Opera Ballet's spellbinding 'Giselle' (Chicago Tribune, June 28)

Hedy Weiss, Gorgeous, fluid Paris Opera Ballet triumphs with ‘Giselle’ (Chicago Sun-Times, June 27)
Marie-Agnès Gillot was an icy Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, frigid of face and gesture, rigid as a weightless statue as she floated en pointe in the Act II ballet blanc, her feet in tiny motions often lost in the fog. The corps de ballet danced with elegance and precision, looking patrician and polished even in the peasant scenes in Act I, making graceful waves of motion that were echoed in the arching phrases of music skilfully conducted by Koen Kessels. Especially unified and poised were the group of eight women, playing Giselle's friends in the first act, who were extraordinary to watch. This is a testament to the womb-to-tomb system in Paris: all three of the stars -- Dupont, Ganio, Gillot -- entered the Paris ballet school as teenagers and worked their way up through roles like these, learning each ballet from the inside out.

The sets, designed long ago by Alexandre Benois, were convincingly three-dimensional vistas, of two thatched huts in a glen in Act I, with a vista of Rhine valley Bergschlößer in the distance, and a haunted Romantic forest in Act II, with craggy limbs hanging down. The Wilis entered wearing veils, just as Heine described them, only to have them whipped off by hidden cords after a short while. The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra sounded in top form, after a somewhat uncertain start to the introduction music, taken very fast, responding well to the clearly presented ideas of Kessels. The solos for cello and viola were particularly poignant, and the whole ensemble, a few dicey moments aside, followed Kessels through the many odd detours of tempo fluctuation.

This performance will be repeated at the Kennedy Center through July 8. The company's North American tour continues at Lincoln Center in New York (July 13 to 19).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The interesting thing about classical ballet is that "Eurotrash" has not yet infected it!!!