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American Ballet Theatre

'Giselle'

by Colleen Boresta

June 1, 2011 matinee -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY

Giselle is the most famous ballet of the Romantic Era. It 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 Corralli, Perrot and Petipa.

Giselle tells the story of a young peasant girl with a weak heart. She falls in love with another peasant, Loys, and believes herself to be betrothed to him. Hilarion, the village huntsman, loves Giselle and is jealous of Loys. Hilarion finds proof that Loys is really a nobleman. When Giselle finally discovers that Loys is really Count Albrecht and is engaged to a princess, she goes mad and dies.

In Act II, Giselle becomes a willi. Willis are the spirits of dead girls who were betrayed by their fiancés. They appear at midnight and dance to death any man who enters their forest. Hilarion brings a cross to Giselle’s grave and is killed by the willis.

Devastated by grief and remorse, Albrecht brings flowers to Giselle’s unmarked grave. There he sees the spirit of Giselle and dances with her. Giselle forgives Albrecht, but he is caught by the rest of the willis who try to dance him to death. Giselle dances with him, giving Albrecht as much of her strength as she possibly can. When dawn arrives the willis lose their power. Albrecht is still alive. Giselle’s spirit goes back to her grave. She will never be a willi again. Albrecht is left behind to mourn her.

At the June 1st matinee, ABT’s young soloist, Hee Seo, made her debut as Giselle. It was a magical performance. Hee is a very natural young peasant girl, completely in love with Albrecht (Loys). She fully inhabits the role – her innocence, her devotion to her mother, even her delicate constitution – all are perfect. Everything about Hee’s portrayal of Giselle is real. Her mad scene is heartbreakingly simple. Not able to accept Albrecht’s deception, she becomes a child again. Hee’s acting is so heartfelt, I felt myself tearing up. In Act II, Hee’s Giselle stands out for her deep arabesques and whirlwind turns. Hee’s willi is feather light, wafting ethereally across the stage.

David Hallberg’s Albecht is an impulsive young man who really loves Giselle. He’s pushed his real life so far in the background that he doesn’t think about it or his real fiancée when he’s with Giselle. Albrecht is so devastated by Giselle’s death it’s painful to watch.

Hallberg’s Act II Albrecht shows off his impeccable line and noble refinement. His Albrecht, however, is a noble full of emotion – love, remorse and especially grief. When Albrecht is being pursued by the willis, Hallberg’s every step is awe-inspiring. The elevation of his leaps, his perfect double assemble air turns and especially his entrechats where he soars into the air and hangs suspended there – all are spellbinding. One of the many memorable things about Hee’s and Hallberg’s Giselle is how in sync their dancing styles are – especially the side by side jumps performed in both Acts I and II. Their chemistry is joyous in the first act, and ethereal, even spiritual in Act II.

The ending for the June 1st matinee of Giselle is a little different from what I’ve seen in past ABT productions. Instead of showering Albrecht with lilies, Giselle drops one single flower as she returns to the grave. Albrecht breathes in the scent of the lily, feeling his oneness with Giselle for a final time. Then he slowly walks away from her grave. At this point, the tears are streaming down my face.

Stella Abrera is intensely cold and forbidding as Myrta, queen of the willis. She dances the part with great authority and control. Abrera’s leaps, however, lack the height and vengefulness of Gillian Murphy’s Myrta. As good as Abrera is, I think she’s a more natural fit as Giselle. The willis dance together in splendid tandem.

Jared Mathews is a very sympathetic Hilarion. This is the best performance I’ve ever seen from Matthews. Both his acting and dancing are full of passion. When Hilarion is danced to death by the willis, Matthews really lets go and shows total exhaustion, both in body and spirit.

As Berthe, Nancy Raffa is a real mother, not just a corps member made up to look older. Raffa’s Berthe is loving and devoted to Giselle. She naturally worries about her naïve young daughter with the weak heart. Daniil Simkin and Sarah Lane perform a lovely and exciting peasant pas de deux. Simkin especially stands out for his soaring leaps and incredible ballon.

I hope American Ballet Theatre keeps this glorious Giselle in their repertoire. The combination of magnificent music (by Adolphe Adam) and transcendent performances make this Giselle one that should last for a long, long time.

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