National Ballet of Canada - 'Giselle'
Danced to Life
by Michael Goldbarth
November 18 and 21, 2004 -- Hummingbird Centre, Toronto
You know what memories you’ll take home when you see "Giselle": alabaster ballerinas, blowing mist, silent acting, love, life, death, afterlife, this, that, and a whole lot more. It’s a classic, the Hamlet of ballet. "Giselle" first premiered in Paris at the Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique on June 28th, 1841. Quite an artistic enterprise keeping a ballet alive for 163 years! The players who first graced the stage (Carlotta Grisi as Giselle and Lucien Petipa as Albrecht) have long been forgotten. The music rarely receives air play. Indeed, even classical music aficionados wrinkle their foreheads, stumped at the mere mention of the ballet’s composer, Adolphe Adam. The writer responsible for the fabled theme of the Wilis, Heinrich Heine, is only known in his homeland of Germany.
It’s impossible to know how much of the original choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot survives in today’s productions. Despite all of the above, ballet companies around the globe continue to revisit history. Why? That’s what my review hopes to answer as the National Ballet of Canada performs Peter Wright’s version of this romantic tale.
I enjoyed all three performances I attended, but one outshone all the others. The future is bright for future Albrechts with the incredibly gifted Guillaume Côté and an improving Nehemiah Kish. Chan Hon Goh will no doubt dance forever and Sonia Rodriguez was a dream. If only she had more of a bad hair day for her Mad Scene. Of course, it’s almost impossible for Sonia Rodriguez to have a bad hair day! The couple that stole the show for me was the ageless Aleksandar Antonijevic and gorgeous Greta Hodgkinson. They made the struggle fighting my way through the Sunday Santa Claus parade traffic worth every elbow, push, and shove en route to the Hummingbird Centre ...
From the moment Antonijevic, and then Hodgkinson appeared in front of a noticeably full house, the audience responded with spontaneous applause and we all had a hunch this would be a most memorable performance-the last in the run. Both were at their flirtatious best gliding about the stage arm in arm and then in the famous ‘he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not’ game where Albrecht, Count of Silesia, fixes the result. Flowers abound so much, I’m surprised a florist has never sponsored this ballet for the National Ballet of Canada. Albrecht is already betrothed to another in a pre-arranged marriage. So what’s he doing wooing the sweet Giselle? No doubt he is out to deflower this beautiful virgin peasant in the cottage he rented. Before long, lust turns to love for this convenient neighbor and the Count is in hot water.
A very earnest Ryan Boorne, as Hilarion, demonstrates his very bad manners by interrupting their courtship. Hilarion has had his eyes on Giselle for a long time and does not approve of this stranger. Giselle’s mom approves of Hilarion as he has a steady job (gamekeeper) and drops by with gifts. This time around it appeared to be a pheasant-uncooked. The grape pickers restore the village’s previous happy equilibrium. Giselle and Albrecht, masquerading as common man Loys, overcome with luv dance en grand jeté-passé (jumping sideways really high). Their pas de deux climaxes in blown kisses galore.
The next major scene is ‘listen to your mom or else.’ Giselle has a very weak heart and thus should not dance so enthusiastically – especially not as much as a principal ballerina like Greta Hodgkinson! Through mime we learn that young girls who die before their wedding day will spend eternity as one of the Wilis-ghosts condemned to dance forever.
Giselle then meets Countess Bathilde played with duly upturned royalty by Julie Hay. She presents a bouquet of flowers and Bathilde responds by giving Giselle her necklace. Keiichi Hirano may have danced his way from 2nd to 1st soloist during the Peasant Pas de Deux. Hirano pulled off a series of gravity defying brisé volé (traveling jumps) that left me reaching for a non-existent remote control to rewind his wow-inspiring air show!
The villagers then proclaim Giselle Queen of the Vintage as she’s hoisted onto a grapevine wagon. Hilarion blows up Giselle’s dreamy day by summoning the royal party with a hunting horn. He reveals the true identity of Loys as Albrecht and thus Giselle discovers the truth that it is Bathilde who is engaged to be married to Albrecht and not her. A truth she cannot come to terms with.
One quality clearly separated Hodgkinson’s Mad Scene from the others: patience. From my close up, opera glasses assisted point of view, Hodgkinson's performance was so captivating I was transported from my theatre seat into Giselle’s nightmare. The descent into madness was gradual – as it should be. From the tussled strands of hair to reliving her playful flirtations with Albrecht to drawing a circle with his sword sealing her fate to dance forevermore as a Wili – Greta fully plumbed the depths of the role as she died of a broken heart. Go deep, future Giselle! Go deep! You can be a pretty ballerina or you can go for it all and be a dancer/silent actress. When these two come together then you’ve earned the title of Principal. Otherwise, you’re just another pretty face. It was obvious Hodgkinson had done her homework replaying every scene in her mind in the weeks leading up to the ballet.
There was not that much to do dancing wise in the 1st act but Aleksandar Antonijevic more than made up for it with impressive silent acting. He expressed a full range of emotions from two timing flirt to love to sheer rage to utter anguish. Bravo! I hope James Kudelka keeps this duet together.
It’s time for the ‘Grand Pas de Deux’ to this ballet. Greta Hodgkinson effortlessly floats through the cool night air as if carried by the musical notes alone flowing from the orchestra pit. She exhausts Albrecht by compelling him to lift her high into the air and now he must dance alone. Many grand jetés and assorted leaps later Giselle implores Myrtha with an offering of lilies to spare his life. This angers Myrtha even more so and all her sisters gaze in unison evil-eyed at their victim. Giselle is ordered to dance even faster and Aleksandar Antonijevic somehow finds the energy to pull off some brisé jumps.
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