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American Ballet Theatre: Giselle 2017

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American Ballet Theatre

Giselle 2017

David H. Koch Theater

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Kara Medoff Barnett, Executive Director
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Clinton Luckett, Assistant Artistic Director
Susan Jones, Principal Ballet Mistress
Ballet Masters: Irina Kolpakova,
Carlos Lopez, Nancy Raffa, Keith Roberts
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
Jenny Lee, Director of Marketing
Susie Morgan Taylor, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 30, 2017

(Read More ABT Reviews)

(See a Conversation with Conductor, David LaMarche, on the Spring Season Ballet Music.)

Giselle (1841, Paris, 1987, Current Production, ABT): Choreography after Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, and Marius Petipa, Staged by Kevin McKenzie, Libretto by Théophile Gautier, on a theme by Heinrich Heine, Orchestrated by John Lanchbery, Music by Adolphe Adam, Scenery by Gianni Quaranta, Costumes by Anna Anni, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton.

Cast on May 27, 2017:

Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Gillian Murphy as Giselle, David Hallberg as Count Albrecht, Thomas Forster as Hilarion, the village huntsman, Alexei Agoudine as Wilfred, the squire, Susan Jones as Berthe, Giselle’s mother, Roman Zhurbin as The Prince of Courland, Alexandra Basmagy as Bathilde, the prince’s daughter, Skylar Brandt and Joseph Gorak as Peasant Pas de Deux, Stella Abrera as Myrta, Melanie Hamrick as Moyna, April Giangeruso as Zulma, and the Company as Court Ladies and Gentlemen, Giselle’s Friends, Villagers, and The Wilis.

Cast on May 30, 2017:

Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Stella Abrera as Giselle, Marcelo Gomes as Count Albrecht, Thomas Forster as Hilarion, the village huntsman, Alexei Agoudine as Wilfred, the squire, Susan Jones as Berthe, Giselle’s mother, Roman Zhurbin as The Prince of Courland, Alexandra Basmagy as Bathilde, the prince’s daughter, Cassandra Trenary and Blaine Hoven as Peasant Pas de Deux, Gillian Murphy as Myrta, Melanie Hamrick as Moyna, April Giangeruso as Zulma, and the Company as Court Ladies and Gentlemen, Giselle’s Friends, Villagers, and The Wilis.

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. (Based on ABT Program Notes).

In an interesting combo of two performances of Giselle, May 27th and May 30th, Gillian Murphy was Giselle on the 27th, with Stella Abrera dancing the role of Myrta, while Ms. Abrera was Giselle on the 30th, with Ms. Murphy dancing the role of Myrta.
This season we had a rare glimpse into the artistic mastery and dramatic nuance required of both lead roles, with two Ballet Theatre Principals who had never danced as Giselle in New York, previously. Both surpassed my wildest imagination in technique, style, and sheer ethereal lightness in the ghostly role as lead Wilis. Giselle is the vulnerable Wili, newest in the Bavarian forest, who has just died of a broken heart, and Myrta is the steeliest Wili, who keeps her Wili ensemble busy, forcing any man who crosses her path to twirl and dance to death over the cliff. Giselle protects the life of Count Albrecht, the fiancé who originally broke her heart, driving her to the madness dance. As she just transformed into the Wili, who dances on her grave by night, she kep Albrecht dancing, so he could not be tosses over the cliff.

Ms. Murphy defined each role with her sense of refinement and skilled muscular force. Ms. Abrera, likewise, although not muscular in build, is lightning quick and achieves high elevation in stage-chewing leaps. She was a vision of sadness and solitude as Giselle and a vision of stridency and arrogance as Myrta, although, when each Giselle kept her Albrecht alive past the 4 AM church bells, when Myrta and the Wilis’ spell breaks, each Myrta had a look of defeat. The Albrechts, David Hallberg on the 27th and Marcelo Gomes on the 30th, are the crème de la crème of Albrechts, both highly seasoned in the roles and regular partners, respectively, of Ms. Murphy and Ms. Abrera. Mr. Hallberg lifted and swept Ms. Murphy in shimmering twilight across the stage. At times he held her aloft in imagery of pure stillness. Both Mr. Hallberg and Mr. Gomes, in Act I, were coy and flirtatious, cunning and deceptive, and, then, in Act II, remorseful and tortured. I had wished Ballet Theatre would film both performances for a double-DVD gift box, but I am not aware of any such resource. Not filming such monumental events, at least for their library, is a lost opportunity.

Two different couples performed the Act I Peasant Pas de Deux, with Soloists, Skylar Brandt and Joseph Gorak dancing on the 27th, and Soloists, Cassandra Trenary and Blaine Hoven on the 30th. All four were enthused, effusive, and well suited to the choreographic virtuosity. As Hilarion, Albrecht’s nemesis, who reveals Albrecht’s princely status to Giselle, hoping she’ll drop the false peasant (Albrecht) who calls himself Loys, Thomas Forster was in the role on both nights. As always, he performed with theatricality and angst, especially when he reveals Albrecht’s princely status, by shoving Albrecht’s royal sword between Giselle and the prince. Susan Jones, on both nights, was in the role of Berthe, Giselle’s mother, who implores her daughter, to no avail, not to strain her weak heart in the village dance. Ms. Jones is the quintessential, overwrought mother.

On both nights, Alexei Agoudine was in the role of Wilfred, the Count’s squire, and he exuded requisite dedication to Albrecht’s welfare. Roman Zhurbin was a superb Prince of Courland both nights, with small, meaningful gestures, and his daughter, Bathilde, was Alexandra Basmagy, both nights, exemplifying Albrecht’s betrayed, royal fiancée. As Moyna and Zulma, Myrta’s lead Wilis, Melanie Hamrick was Moyna both nights, and April Giangeruso was Zulma both nights. All four danced the dimly lit, woodland solos with pathos, fervor, and ghostly gazes.

Although Gianni Quaranta’s sets could use refreshing or replacement, they still work well. Lighting is strong in the village scenes and dim in the glade; in the Act II twilight and mist, dry ice fog works well for visual effect. One of the most melodic of ballet scores, Adolphe Adam’s music for Giselle should be performed with emphasis on drama and poignant quietude. Maestros Ormsby Wilkins on the 27th and David LaMarche on the 30th both caught the musical meaning and shifting pulse with aplomb. Kudos to Kevin McKenzie for beautifully staging and frequently presenting this hypnotic and gripping ballet.

Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg in "Giselle"
Courtesy of Khalid Al-Busaidi

Stella Abrera and Marcelo Gomes in "Giselle"
Courtesy of Rosalie O’Connor

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at