American Ballet Theatre: Giselle
-Onstage with the Dancers
American Ballet Theatre
Ballet in Two Acts
Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Executive Director
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Guillaume Graffin, Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova,
Georgina Parkinson, Kirk Peterson
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
Susan Morgan, Press Associate
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 11 and July 14, 2005
Originally Published on ExploreDance.com
Giselle (1841, Paris; 1987, ABT): Libretto by Théophile Gautier, on a theme by Heinrich Heine, Orchestrated by John Lanchbery, Music by Adolphe Adam, Choreography after Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, and Marius Petipa, Scenery by Gianni Quaranta, Costumes by Anna Anni, and Lighting by Jennifer Tipton. Set near the Rhine, Hilarion, a hunter in love with villager, Giselle, leaves wild game and flowers on her doorstep. Count Albrecht, disguised as Loys, a peasant, swears love to Giselle and uses a "he loves me, he loves me not" daisy to prove his intentions. Loys and Hilarion wish to duel, but the villagers return, and Giselle risks her weak heart to dance for Bathilde, the prince's daughter, part of a hunting party.
Bathilde gives Giselle her golden necklace, but havoc breaks loose when Giselle discovers that Loys is an imposter, affianced to Bathilde. Giselle dances herself to death of a broken heart and becomes a Wili, a maiden whose fiancée failed to marry her prior to her death. Wili Queen Myrta helps the Wilis dance and entrap men between dusk and dawn, and Hilarion meets a cruel fate. However, Albrecht is saved by Giselle, who dances with him until 4 AM, when the clock strikes, and the Wilis lose power. Giselle returns to her grave, with many calla lilies strewn about. (Program Notes).
July 11: Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Julie Kent as Giselle, Julio Bocca as Count Albrecht, Gennadi Saveliev as Hilarion, huntsman and gamekeeper, Carlos Lopez as Wilfred, the count's squire, Susan Jones as Berthe, Giselle's mother, Victor Barbee as The Prince of Courland, Jennifer Alexander as Bathilde, the prince's daughter, Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo as Peasant Pas de Deux, Gillian Murphy as Myrta, Michele Wiles as Moyna, Veronica Part as Zulma, and the Company as Court Ladies and Gentlemen, Giselle's Friends, Villagers, and The Wilis.
July 14: Conductor: David LaMarche, Amanda McKerrow as Giselle, Ethan Stiefel as Count Albrecht, Sascha Radetsky as Hilarion, Julio Bragado-Young as Wilfred, the count's squire, Karin Ellis-Wentz as Berthe, Giselle's mother, Victor Barbee as The Prince of Courland, Jennifer Alexander as Bathilde, the prince's daughter, Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo as Peasant Pas de Deux, Gillian Murphy as Myrta, Michele Wiles as Moyna, Carmen Corella as Zulma, and the Company as Court Ladies and Gentlemen, Giselle's Friends, Villagers, and The Wilis.
Giselle has always been one of my favorite ballets, with its psychologically driven drama and the surreal quality of the misty, dark, Wili graveyard scenes. It takes a true Prima Ballerina to succeed in the mad scene, as we watch an ingénue become "unhinged", circling a plaza in vineyard country with a long, narrow sword, as her hair falls to her shoulders, and her eyes become glazed with despair at her lover's deceit. The two Giselles that I saw this week were Julie Kent on July 11 and Amanda McKerrow on July 14, her formal ABT retirement event. It did not seem strange at all to see the same duo, Kent and Bocca, fresh from Swan Lake on July 2, a prince and a swan, now personify a prince and a dancing spirit.
Ms. Kent was perfectly radiant as the innocent peasant girl, Giselle, counting daisy petals to check the love quotient of Loys (actually Count Albrecht in disguise). Ms. Kent's lyricism and freshness in a familiar role (although not in annual ABT repertoire of late) was beguiling to her partner, Mr. Bocca. In her dances for Bathilde (Jennifer Alexander), the prince's daughter, Ms. Kent is humble, head bowed, but proud. In Ms. Kent's subsequent mad scene, as Berthe (Karin Ellis-Wentz), Giselle's mother, removes the hairpins and impending death enters what had just been a scene of happy harvest and generous gestures, Ms. Kent wanders the stage with confusion and passion. As a Wili, Ms. Kent was reserved and poised, exuding internalized grief.
Ms. McKerrow's Giselle, in all her complexities, was heart-rending, and this, her flower-strewn retirement event, was already an emotionally driven evening. Ms. McKerrow's ingénue Giselle was ever so delicate, ever so sweet. Her mad scene was over-the-top magnificent, and her lifeless fall at the end of the sword-circling seemed so real the audience fell silent as well. Ms. McKerrow's Giselle was graceful, balanced (a good deal of dancing is done in bent position, head down, back bent, moving across the stage or in circles on one foot), and in touch, in life and in the spiritual realm, with her partner, Ethan Stiefel. When she protected him from the encircling death squad of dozens of gauzy Wilis, she seemed filled with determination, even in the last moments onstage at ABT after twenty-three years.
Julio Bocca, as Albrecht on July 11, seemed to push himself to every limit of theatricality and physicality. Mr. Bocca has already retired from a couple of full-length ballets, and, thank goodness, Giselle is still in his repertoire. His partnering technique is flawless, as he dances as affectionate Loys the imposter and later as grieving Albrecht the lover. His final leaps and spins, dancing out the night till the bells of morning subdue the Wilis' spell, seemed to take his every breath and muscular effort.
Ethan Stiefel, as Albrecht on July 14, was more casual and relaxed, but ever so romantic, ever so rapturous. Ms. McKerrow was fortunate to have him as her retirement partner, as he cradled her so gently and gazed upon her with early protection and later desperation. His mid-air tiny kicks, with legs forced forward, were bold and fierce. In fact, this duo was more emboldened in their onstage partnering and illustrative emotions. Myrta, Wili Queen, performed by Gillian Murphy on both nights, was another onstage star, with her air of possession and power, with her leadership of a flock of Wilis awaiting her commands, and with her impatience at the endless night and her unrequited effort to finish Albrecht in a dance of death, as she had accomplished with Hilarion (Gennadi Saveliev on July 11 and Sascha Radetsky on July 14).
Mr. Saveliev was a darker, more treacherous Hilarion, with Mr. Radetsky, of shorter stature and equal theatrics, the more magnetic. Both ABT soloists exuded extreme grief, and both danced the lightning spins, on entering the graveyard, that are so memorable to the role. The much earlier laying of the dead geese and flowers on Giselle's doorstep was a poignant scene for both. Michele Wiles was Moyna on both nights, and Veronica Part (July 11) and Carmen Corella (July 14) were Zulma, Myrta's assistant Wilis. A newly appointed principal, Ms. Wiles seemed poised for a more prominent role. She is tall, elongated, balanced, and exuding in dramatic energy. Jennifer Alexander, in ruffled red, affianced to Count Albrecht, was both giving and glaring, as the Count's duplicity was revealed. Susan Jones and Karin Ellis-Wentz were both nurturing and grieving as Berthe, Giselle's mother.
One high point of both evenings was the Peasant Pas de Deux, with "luxury casting" of Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo both evenings. These two virtuosic principals appear together in numerous ballets, full-length and one-act, and they're a dance match made in heaven. Thus, this pas de deux was bubbly, breathtaking, and brilliant each time around, in the solos and the duos. Their skills are surreal. Another high point (not counting the obvious mad scene) is the dance by the corps of Wilis, as they emerge from the dark forest, all gauzy and glistening in glaring moonlight, bent forward, to the haunting refrains of Adolphe Adam, repetitively moving on one foot in lines of frothy white spirits. On both nights the ABT corps was spiritual splendor.
Carlos Lopez (July 11) and Julio Bragado-Young (July 14) performed the role of Wilfred with flair, and Victor Barbee was the astute Prince of Courland on both evenings. Ormsby Wilkins (July 11) and David LaMarche (July 14) kept the orchestra princely and poignant, in this haunting score by Adam and Lanchbery, depending on the Act. For Ms. McKerrow's curtain farewell, her husband, John Gardner, formerly of ABT, as well as numerous current and former partners, appeared onstage with bountiful bouquets, followed by dozens of single roses from the corps and the audience, silvery confetti, and endless embraces. This Giselle was magic, not just because of lovely, dancing spirits, midnight-dawn lighting, and quintessential costumes and sets, but also because Amanda McKerrow was so effective and ethereal in her final dance and bows.
Kudos to Amanda McKerrow, and kudos to American Ballet Theatre for a full ballet season 2005 of magical evenings and memorable moments.