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Paris Opera Ballet

'Giselle'

by Carmel Morgan

July 5, 2012 -- Opera House, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC

It had been too long since the Paris Opera Ballet graced the Kennedy Center’s stage in Washington, DC – 19 years! That’s long wait for ballet fans without the funds or time for international travel. Thus the French ballet company was welcomed especially warmly and eagerly on a hot evening following the capital’s Fourth of July fireworks. They presented “Giselle,” a romantic classical ballet favorite. Instead of intense bursts of fire and light, the performance generated a sustained and assured soothing cool. Thanks to the Paris Opera Ballet, the audience received a much needed dose of refreshment to take minds off the record-breaking heat wave that the city was experiencing.

One could not help but compare the Paris Opera Ballet’s version of “Giselle” to that performed by the Mariinsky at the Kennedy Center around a year and a half ago. On the Paris Opera Ballet’s opening night, Aurélie Dupont danced the part of Giselle. Dupont is no Diana Vishneva, and I mean that in a very positive way. Vishneva tends to be showy and visibly intent upon pleasing her audience. Dupont simply danced, and danced beautifully. She displayed none of Vishneva’s sometimes hyper-awareness of her star quality. Dupont gave Giselle both genuine sweetness and a healthy dollop of determination. She could be wispy light and strong at the same time, and her acting was the most compelling among the wonderful cast.

I kept thinking of the Paris Opera Ballet as having offered a soufflé, and the Mariinsky a hearty spiced stew. While the Paris Opera Ballet provided a pleasant, soft and airy version of Giselle, the Mariinsky provided a punchier production, where the soloists stood out dramatically from the corps and even the music seemed louder. Where the Paris Opera Ballet’s version was elegant and subdued, the Mariisnky’s supplied less subtlety. With the Paris Opera Ballet, I felt like Giselle was a gift being lovingly handed down from long ago. With the Mariinsky, I felt like Giselle was not the historical gem it can be, but a vehicle for promoting the company.

From the set to the costumes, the Paris Opera Ballet’s Giselle stayed truest to what the original ballet would have looked like. Even the lighting seemed dark, as it might have been generations before, allowing the Wilis of Act II to emit an appropriately spectral glow. The dancers’ gestures, as well, mimicked what must have been the style of the past century. Hands told stories not through the body so much as through the meticulous sculpted writing they created. I continually noticed incredible details in the Paris Opera Ballet’s version, which made them the definite winner of the battle of the Giselles. Not only gestures but intricate footwork, group formations and transitions, and emotional exchanges came across clearly. Everything seemed to have been precisely executed, to good effect. The Wilis moved in impressive unison, and also in a manner that permitted one to really soak up all of the pretty choreography and glory in its special small moments.

I cannot say that the Paris Opera Ballet’s Giselle was perfect – there were some unsteady landings, for example, on the part of Mathieu Ganio as Albrecht. I forgave him some wobbly footfalls for his bounding basketball vertical jumps, where you’d think he was leaping up from a trampoline and not a hard surface. Overall, the performance was outstanding, and the audience appeared to glide into the steamy night feeling inspired and extremely satisfied. If the test of a great performance is whether it makes you gasp in places due to stunning artistry, then the Paris Opera Ballet certainly succeeded.

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