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Paris Opera Ballet

'Giselle'

by Colleen Boresta

July 14, 2012 (m)-- David Koch Theatre, New York City, NY

The last time the Paris Opera Ballet appeared in New York was way back in 1996. Not wanting to let the chance of seeing this celebrated company escape me, I bought a ticket for the July 14th matinee of “Giselle”. I had been told by a fellow balletomane that POB’s current “Giselle” is as close to the original production of this romantic classic as one can get. (“Giselle” premiered in Paris on June 28, 1841.)

“Giselle” is the story of a young peasant girl with a weak heart. She falls in love with a farmer named Loys and believes that she is engaged to marry him. Hilarion, the village gamekeeper, loves Giselle and is jealous of Loys. Hilarion finds proof that Loys is really a nobleman. When Giselle finally realizes that Loys is actually Count Albrecht and that he is betrothed to Princess Bathilde, she goes mad and dies.

In Act II Giselle becomes a Willi. Willis are the spirits of young girls who have been betrayed by their fiancés. They appear at midnight and dance to death any male found in their forest. Hilarion brings a cross to Giselle’s grave and the Willis kill him.

Devastated by sorrow and contrition, Albrecht brings flowers to Giselle’s grave. There the spirit of Giselle appears to him. Giselle forgives Albrecht, but he is captured by the Willis who want to dance him to death. Giselle cannot stop the Willis, but she dances with Albrecht, giving him as much of her spiritual strength as she can. Then dawn arrives and the Willis lose their power. Giselle’s spirit goes back to her grave. She will never be a Willi again. Albrecht is still alive, left to mourn Giselle forever.

Not being around in 1841, I have no idea what the original production of “Giselle” was like. I do know that the Paris Opera Ballet’s current “Giselle”, staged by Patrice Bart and Eugene Polyakov, after Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa, is a very traditional version of the ballet. It is quite similar to American Ballet Theatre’s “Giselle”.

I am very impressed by POB’s “Giselle”, but it does not move me. I feel as detached from the 19th century world of Giselle and Albrecht as the leading dancers Isabelle Ciaravola and Karl Paquette seem to be. Isabella Ciaravola is a beautiful looking Giselle, but her footwork is not as precise as it should be. She simplifies her Act I solo, doing single turns instead of doubles. Her Act II jetes lack elevation.

As Count Albrecht, Karl Paquette is pretty much a blank slate, especially in Act I. I can’t figure out if he is a cad or really loves Giselle. Paquette does not seem to develop any characterization of the nobleman. His dancing is quite spectacular in Act II, especially his double air turns and entrechats.

For me, the most unforgettable performance is Marie-Agnes Gillot’s Myrtha. She has the highest and most vengeful leap I have ever seen. Gillot is a truly cold and frightening Queen of the Willis.

Heloise Bourdon and Axel Ibot dance an excitingly lovely peasant pas de deux. Ibot’s strong jumps and wonderful ballon are especially noteworthy.

The Willis are absolutely beautiful, performing in perfect unison. Their movements are so in sync that it is as though they are one entity.

I will remember POB’s “Giselle” for a long time, particularly due to the power of the Willis and their Queen. I hope the Paris Opera Ballet returns to New York before another 16 years have passed.

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