Sunday, 1 March 2009

Giselle: the mysterious case of the unidentified ballerina

The Resident Fan Boy got into our good books by negotiating loge seats at the matinée of the American Ballet Theatre's production of Giselle. (Dance matinées are a scarce as hens' teeth in Ottawa, and usually only available for The Nutcracker.) As we settled in and perused our programmes, we discovered that the only dancers listed were those performing the principal roles of Giselle, Albrecht, and Myrta (Queen of the Wilis). Three Albrechts were listed, ours was to be David Hallberg, but no Giselle was noted for the February 28th matinée!

Here's what I can tell you about Magical Mystery Giselle: petite, brown hair, very long arms and legs, looked really, really young. I realize that this is hardly a distinctive description of a ballerina. They all look like that. (Some of them are blond.) Okay, she didn't look like the pictures I found on the ABT website of the two Giselles who were listed. The Resident Fan Boy and I figured she must be a first soloist debuting in a principal role, which is not an unusual thing for a matinée performance. (I'm not sure why; are matinée audiences less snarky or something?) Stella Abrera seems the most likely candidate as she is performing in Giselle with David Hallberg in June; but it didn't look like her photo, either. So I spent the afternoon enjoying this mystery performance, then restrained myself from bellowing "Who are you?" during the bows.

There are other distractions that result from sitting in a loge. We were on the right side of the theatre so had a superb view of Giselle's mother's cottage in the first act, and Giselle's grave in the second act. While I could nearly see into the wings on the left, I had a very limited view of the right side. It helped that I'm familiar with the plot, otherwise I might have been seriously creeped out by the closing of the ballet. As the spirit of Giselle, having rescued Albrecht from being danced to death by the vengeful Wilis (trust me, if you don't know the story, you should look it up), prepares to return to her grave, she gives a flower, a token of her love and forgiveness, to Albrecht. I watched in fascination as a hand, clad in a pink sleeve, appeared from low down in the wings and passed the flower to Giselle. This gave the impression of a Carrie-like hand reaching from Giselle's grave, and moments later, reaching out to catch Giselle as she gracefully fell backwards and appeared (to the rest of the audience) to float headfirst off-stage. I knew it was the dancer who portrayed Hilarion assisting in the hocus-pocus, but someone watching this for the first time might have wondered why Giselle was being whisked away in such a sinister manner.

We also had a clear view of the orchestra pit, filled with musicians who appeared to be drinking coffee when not playing their instruments, and who also packed up and left during the curtain calls, leaving the conductor, when he was called onstage for his bow, to gesture magnanimously to an empty pit.

I'm giving the erroneous impression that this was not a top-notch performance. It was actually very beautifully performed, and given the far-fetched nature of the plot (no, seriously, go look it up; it's too convoluted for me to retell here), every motivation was clearly illustrated. It was ably demonstrated from the beginning that Albrecht is a noble, albeit in disguise, and very used to getting his way. There's a lovely moment early on when the jealous Hilarion draws his dagger and Albrecht instinctively reaches for his absent sword, thus betraying himself. Every opportunity was taken to show that Giselle, however she may love to dance, is a fragile creature with a heart problem, so we are not puzzled when she suddenly drops dead during the famous mad scene. The entire performance was filled with this tiny, clarifying details. What could have been Victorian melodrama (which, essentially it is, early 16th century costumes aside) is transformed into a very moving story of a very young naïve girl and the ethereal spirit of transcending love she becomes.

The real challenge of Giselle is that the first act and the second act are like two completely different ballets. Again, these are enormously talented dancers right down to the corps who deftly handle the transition from the earthy pastoral of the beginning to the spooky yet moving ghost story of the second.

Younger daughter seemed to thoroughly enjoy herself, particularly the bonus of having two real live Borzoi hounds enter with the hunting party in the first act. Too bad they sat on the right. Resident Fan Boy had a lot to say about the beige tights of the male soloist in Act One. He was right. Several shades darker would have helped us concentrate on his dancing.

Update: The Resident Fan Boy and I went through the pictures of the soloists at American Ballet Theatre and the mystery is solved! Our Giselle was first soloist Maria Riccetto. And I forgot to wish you all: Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus!


JoeinVegas said...

Even with snow and ice you seem to be able to attend a lot of interesting events.

Persephone said...

If snow and ice were obstacles in Ottawa, nuthin' would happen here for half the year!

Jane Henry said...

I'm not a huge ballet fan, but I love Giselle. Thought your description of this was great.I live quite close to London and I don't end up doing nearly as much culture as I'd like (expense, the bugger of getting the last train home, if I'm doing something sans enfants the bugger of organising child care till I can get up to town.) I comfort myself that maybe I'll be able to indulge myself in my old age... In the meantime we are going to Oliver on Friday. And I AM going to get tickets for the Globe this year if it kills me!

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Resident Fan Boy had a lot to say about the beige tights of the male soloist in Act One. He was right. Several shades darker would have helped us concentrate on his dancing.

I just spluttered my soup at the computer screen!!! Hilarious phrasing there!