GISELLE: A GRAND SEASON FINALE
By: Hal de Becker
Nevada Ballet Theatre’s ‘Giselle’ at The Smith Center was a handsome, well danced production that fell short only in some of the acting.
With a season of just four different programs at TSC and a limited number of showings for each – only two for Giselle, it would be too much to expect the dancers to acquire the experience necessary to fully plumb the depths of complex dramatic characters.
‘Giselle’ epitomizes the influence that the mid-19th century Romantic period had on ballet and all the other arts, music, literature and painting. The Romantics of that period emphasized freedom of expression, the depiction of emotions, nature themes, and the ‘common man’ like the villagers that inhabit ‘Giselle’.
Premiered in Paris in 1841 it’s a timeless tale of love, betrayal, forgiveness and class inequality. As such, it will always be an accessible audience pleaser. It’s in the repertoire of most ballet companies capable of mounting it. Fortunately for Las Vegas NBT is one such company.
The story possesses universal elements: In Act I, Giselle, an innocent young girl, takes the fancy of Albrecht, a rich, randy aristocrat already affianced to a woman of his own class. When she discovers his deception she goes mad and succumbs to a weak and broken heart.
In Act II, on a midnight visit to her graveside, the guilt ridden Albrecht is beset by Wilis, the spirits of other jilted dead girls, who doom him to dance to his death. Unseen by him, the spirit of the forgiving Giselle pleads for his life, but failing, helps him to continue dancing until the coming of dawn puts an end to the power of the Wilis. Giselle then returns to her tomb leaving forever the shattered Albrecht.
NBT’s production was the traditional one and conveyed the story with straightforward clarity and considerable nuance.
In the title role, Alissa Dale’s raging madness and death at the conclusion of Act I was moving and persuasive. But earlier she lacked the awkward shyness and physical fragility of the simple village maiden and came across more as a ‘ballerina’, albeit a beautiful one.
In the cemetery setting of Act II her pure classical dancing was flawless. One example, the dangerously slow, forward-bending ‘penche arabesque’ in the adagio was executed with a beautiful line and without the wobbling so frequently seen.
Perhaps to enhance her spectral persona, she did a make-up-make-over for Act II that made her look more corpse-like than wraith-like. And in seeking to depict an otherworldly detachment some of her moves were wooden and the loving tenderness that Giselle, even as a spirit, still feels for Albrecht was missing.
Stephan Azulay’s dancing as Albrecht distinguished him as an accomplished classical purist. He displayed high elevation with soft landings, deep beats, clean double air turns, good lines and placement, wide open cabrioles and much more.
As the lighthearted aristocrat in the beginning of Act I he was thoroughly convincing and projected the inner workings of his character with complete clarity. But at the Act’s end and throughout Act II his depictions of grief, remorse, anger and fear, were clumsy, superficial and unpersuasive.
However, the sheer beauty of his and Ms Dale’s classical dancing may have been rewarding enough with or without dramatic expertize.
The ballet’s two other important characters are Hilarion, the village gamekeeper who truly loves Giselle, and Myrtha the cruel, implacable Queen of the Willis.
As Myrtha, Christina Ghiardi delivered outstanding dancing together with convincing characterization. As high priestess of the Wilis she was cold and commanding and filled the stage with authority as well as powerful dancing.
As Hilarion, despite uneven acting, Steven Goforth was impressive and with a few added performances would no doubt have developed a more consistent portrayal. Nevertheless, his stage presence and forceful entrances, followed by bravura aerial feats, were riveting.
He and Ms Ghiardi are physically and possibly artistically well matched and would likely make an explosive dance couple.
The energetic ‘Peasant Pas’ of Act I was danced by Emma McGirr and Braeden Barnes. It is often a show stopper but not this time. Barnes, usually a strong dancer, was far from being in good form. McGirr’s dancing was excellent but since the dance was a duet, her partner’s shortcomings cast a shadow on its performance.
In Act I, the corps de ballet danced well as peasants cavorting at a wine festival. Krista Baker, Kaleigh Schock, Mary LaCroix, Benjamin Tucker, Barnes and a few others best captured the rustic spirit of the proceedings. Barrington Lohr portrayed the Prince of Courland with dainty elegance.
In Act II the 18 ladies of the corps (nine of them “trainees”) were wondrously ethereal. Their fixed expressions, uniformity of movement and slavish obedience to Myrtha made them extraordinarily persuasive as unearthly spirits.
The famous crossing of the stage by the Wilis moving slowly from opposite sides in two groups and intersecting at center stage with their legs identically extended in arabesque, was an exceptional rendering of that lovely sequence. The dancers moved as one and seemed to hear and interpret the music as one.
Scenery and costumes, attributed respectively to Peter Cazalet and David Heuval, were suitable. Especially effective was the opening of the graveyard scene with its black menacing tree trunks, fog and dark lighting. However, as the lighting progressed to an unnecessarily brighter illumination some of the eeriness was lost.
Most of the choreographic action is indicated in the score by Adolphe Adam. It’s filled with mysterious overtones and charming melodies. Unfortunately, at TSC the electronic reproduction of the recorded music frequently sounded thin and shrill. I suspect this was the fault of the original recording rather than the venue’s sound system. But I could be wrong.