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American Ballet Theatre

'Giselle'

by Colleen Boresta

May 19, 2012 (m)-- Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY

The audience at American Ballet Theatre’s May 19th matinee at the Metropolitan Opera House saw a jam packed house. It wasn’t just that ABT was performing Giselle, a perennial favorite.
More to the point the title role was danced by the brilliant young Russian ballerina, Natalia Osipova. Her Albrecht was David Hallberg, a principal dancer with both ABT and the Bolshoi Ballet. Giselle was originally choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot in 1841. It was revived by Marius Petipa in 1850. ABT’s current production of Giselle is staged by Kevin McKenzie, after the choreography of Coralli, Perrot and Petipa. Saturday’s matinee is probably the best Giselle I’ve ever seen.

Giselle is the tale of a young peasant girl with a bad heart. She falls in love with a farmer named Loys, and thinks she is engaged to marry him. Hilarion, the local huntsman, loves Giselle and is jealous of Loys. The suspicious Hilarion finds evidence that Loys is really a nobleman. When Giselle finds out that Loys is actually Count Albrecht and that he is betrothed to a princess, she goes mad and dies.

In Act II, Giselle becomes a willi. Willis are the spirits of girls whose fiancés failed to marry them before they died. They appear at midnight and dance to death any man they find in their woods. Hilarion brings a cross to Gisele’s grave and the willis kill him.

Devastated by sorrow and remorse, Albrecht takes flowers to Giselle’s grave. There he sees the spirit of Giselle and dances with her. Giselle forgives Albrecht, but he is trapped by the willis who try to dance him to death. Giselle dances with him, giving Albrecht as much of her strength as she possibly can. Then dawn arrives and the willis lose their power. Albrecht’s has survived the willis’ attack. Giselle’s spirit returns to her grave, never to be a willi again. Albrecht is left behind to mourn her.

Natalia Osipova’s Giselle is the best portrayal of that role that I have ever seen. Osipova is a young, innocent peasant girl hopelessly in love with Albrecht. She has an incredibly mobile face, which shows Giselle’s every emotion – from joy to love to complete and total heartbreak.
Her mad scene is so real that it is painful to watch. In Act II, Osipova is a pure creature of the spirit world. Her willi is feather light, with leaps where she floats above the stage for what seems like an eternity. Her turns are performed at a feverish pace and her hops on pointe have unbelievable elevation. What is really amazing is how Osipova uses her formidable technique to deepen her characterization of Giselle.

David Hallberg’s Albrecht is truly in love with Giselle. He has pushed his real life so far to the background that he doesn’t think about his actual fiancée when he is with Giselle. Albrecht is so shattered by Giselle’s death that it brings tears to my eyes. In Act II, Hallberg stands out for his perfect line and noble refinement. His Albrecht, however, is a noble full of emotion – love, remorse and especially sorrow. When Albrecht is trapped by the willis his every step is astonishing. The height of his leaps, his flawless double assemble turns and especially his entrechats – where he soars in the air and hangs suspended there – all are mesmerizing.

As well as Osipova and Hallberg dance separately, the real wonder is how perfectly complete they are together. Their chemistry in Act I is very genuine and unaffected. In Act II, it is otherworldly, even spiritual.

The ending of the May 19th matinee of Giselle is hauntingly beautiful. As she returns to her grave, Giselle drops one single flower. Albrecht breathes in her the scent of the flower, feeling his oneness with Giselle a single time more. Then he slowly moves away from her grave. At that point, tears are streaming down my eyes.

Stella Abrera dances the part of Myyrta with great power and control. Abrera’s Myrta makes me wonder what her life was like before she died and became a willi. How badly must she have been hurt by her lover in order to turn into such an icy and menacing queen of the willis?

Patrick Ogle is a very young and sympathetic Hilarion. The huntsman truly loves Giselle and cannot understand why she cannot see Albrecht for the nobleman he really is. As Berthe, Susan Jones is a real mother, fully devoted to her innocent daughter with a weak heart. In the peasant pas de deux, Craig Salstein seems off, especially with regard to his leaps. His entire performance is somewhat strained. His partner, Misty Copeland, is lovely. Her dancing radiates pure joy. In Act II, the corps is wonderful, dancing in glorious tandem with each other and the music.

I hope ABT keeps dancing their Giselle for years to come. I also want to see Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg perform together in many more ballets.


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