Choreography by Jules Perrot and Jean Corralli
Music by Adolphe Adam
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
The Louisville Ballet opened their new season with an introduction of the Ballet’s new Artistic Director Robert Curran from General Manager Cara Hicks, Mayor Greg Fischer and his wife Dr. Alexandra Gerassimides. Mr. Curran gave the excited audience at Whitney Hall a promise to uphold and treasure the traditions of excellence that our Louisville Ballet brings to our fair city and to continue the work from his predecessors, Bruce Simpson and Alun Jones, and knew that Louisville is where he wanted to be.
Before Mr. Curran’s introduction the Mayor and Dr. Gerassimides had a cute “only a spouse can say this to another spouse and get away with it” moment when she told the Mayor not to mess up the introduction. The Mayor then shared that he had met his future wife at a Valentine’s Day dance. I mention this because it is sort of apropos to the story of Giselle,
Deep within the forests of the Rhineland a young peasant woman, Giselle (Erica De La O), is being courted by both a gamesman, Hilarion (Philip Velinov) and Count Albrecht (Kristopher Wojtera) who is masquerading as a commoner named Loys. Upon expressing his love to Giselle, Albrecht’s squire (Ryan Stokes) warns him of the dangers of doing so because of his engagement to the Princess Bathilde. Unfazed, while Giselle believes Albrecht to be Loys she too expresses her love and they begin to dance in celebration only for Berthe (Helen Daigle), Giselle’s mother, to stop them, warning that Giselle’s heart is weak and too much dancing can harm her. Undaunted Giselle and Loys continue to celebrate soon to be joined by the village, all while Mother Berthe keeps vigilant watch over her precious daughter.
I adored the folksy dances that accompanied the celebrations and marveled at the strength of the Peasant Pas de Dix where precision and glee were often exemplified. Despite a few missteps here and there, and a little bit of timidity there was definite spirit. It helps me to enjoy a ballet even more when I see that the dancers are having as much fun as I am and that seemed to be the case. Their energy was infectious and made me want to get on stage and join them.
Watching Ms. De La O and Mr. Wojtera dance throughout Giselle exemplifies how a love story is told through dance. With passion and grace they allowed the audience to observe two people falling in love.
Soon after, the nobles come to the village to partake of the harvest and enjoy refreshments, whereupon Bathilde is entranced with Giselle, her good nature and heart, and gifts her with a necklace. The villagers continue to entertain the nobles until Hilarion appears to further discredit Albrecht by telling Giselle that her beloved is actually betrothed to Bathilde.
Inconsolable, Giselle throws the necklace off and begins a frenetic maddening dance. I have to say, watching some of the contortions of movement that Ms. De La O expressed in this scene made me appreciates her beauty and style even more. Although she displays a fit of rage and sorrow she was elegant. Ultimately, Giselle collapses on stage at which point Albrecht comes to her aid and professes his love and asks for forgiveness. She rises and smiles and fades in her mother’s arms.
At Giselle’s gravesite we see Hilarion kneeling and placing her floral wreath on the cross. In the distance we see a ghastly figure all in white peek in and out of view very quickly. Hilarion rises and is soon in the presence of The Wilis, the ghosts of young girls who were jilted and died before their wedding day. After Hilarion encounters the women, including the Queen, Myrthe (Natalia Ashikhmina) and her assistants Moyna (Emily Reinking O’Dell) and Zulme (Ashley Thursby), he is forced to dance until he dies.
To say the entrance of Myrthe was breathtaking would be an understatement. The absolute beauty and artistry that was exuded on stage had me in awe. Myrthe, joined by her assistants and the others, entered the stage en pointe as they glided across the stage in beautiful white gowns and veils (a tip of the hat to lighting designer Michael Ford). And they were en pointe for a good five minutes. That, my friends, takes skill and artistry.
As Albrecht makes his way to mourn at Giselle’s grave, the Wilis, who have coaxed Giselle to join them, reveal themselves to him. Having done so, Myrthe condemns Albrecht to the same fate as Hilarion. Albrecht accepts what is to be and dances with abandon and to exhaustion. With leaps and bounds beyond belief Albrecht collapses on the ground pleading with Myrthe to let him live. But she refuses and he continues dancing throughout the night. As he and Giselle dance in the closing duet and the early morning rays bring their soft light, the Wilis have disappeared. Because of the love Giselle has for Albrecht, he is spared and she returns to her grave to rest in eternal peace.
Overall, the enjoyment of watching real life couple of De La O and Wojtera dancing together in soaring technicality and versatility added much depth to the feel and temperament of Giselle. Equally matched in skill were Philip Velinov and Natalia Ashikhmina, who portrayed characters of power and resolve with quiet yet forceful verve.
So, Mr. Curran, Ms. Hicks, I can’t wait to see what you have up your sleeves.
September 12-13, 2014
Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 West Broadway
Louisville, KY 40202