In a word…Giselle

29 Jan

I finally watched (a) Giselle in its entirety, with my maiden viewing going to the made for film production with Carla Fracci and Erik Bruhn by ABT.  I honestly didn’t think I would like Giselle all that much…I was sure it would be quaint, lovely, but more than likely a little too sappy for my tastes.  You know, the kind of mooniness that provoked Balanchine to coin the term “Gisellitis,” and probably want to shake her and say “get a grip, girl!”  I didn’t “get” Giselle, but I also knew that having only seen the pas de deux performed once as well as a few video clips really wasn’t enough to make a good judgment on the ballet (but judge did I want to!).  Turns out I kind of like it…maybe even really like it and despite the ever dreaded enchanted forest scene, I actually added a Giselle to my Amazon wish list (that one being the Royal Ballet of course, with Alina and Johan.  So magnanimous is that pairing one need not even refer to their surnames).

The film version has some great things going for it…among them, Erik Bruhn as Count Albrecht, who has the most beautiful pair of legs I’ve ever seen (man or woman).  It’s one of those moments where you hesitate to use the word perfect because you try to convince yourself that everyone is flawed, but really his legs are perfect…pencil straight in arabesque and always landing in impeccable fifths in his jumps.  He’s the kind of dancer you watch, then think about your own legs, give yourself a moment to sulk while a trombone goes “wah-waaaaaah” and then remind yourself that dance is not about comparing yourself to others and their genetic gifts, but being the dancer you are with the body you have.  Public service announcement aside, it’s worth the watch for him alone and I believe it’s the only full length performance of his ever recorded so it’s a wonderful piece of history.

He partnered Carla Fracci in the title role, who showed a wonderful range of doe-eyed innocence as a young girl in Act I to a forlorn yet forgiving ghostly apparition in Act II.  I always figured it was the dramatic range (along with technical skill and grace) that drew women to want to perform Giselle so much (here’s looking at you Veronique Doisneau) but I wonder if there’s more to it.  Especially considering the fact that on the surface, Giselle would seem to be a…clingy, antifeminist character.  This day in age, if a man pulls a stunt like Count Albrecht and cheats on his fiancée (Berthilde, with Giselle as the “mistress”), both women are expected to dump him because a cheater is still a cheater and is inevitably bad news to the both of them.  However, my interpretation of Giselle was not antifeminist at all.  The fact that she forgives him strikes me as more empowered, with her death only being symbolic.  We can’t look at a romantic era ballet and realistically compare it to a relationship between actual people and yet I see more truth in Giselle than I do in say, the countless pop songs about breakups you hear on the radio.  Maybe this is hopelessly romantic (or sappy) of me, but I think if you really love someone, a part of you always does and that’s why it’s hard to let go of relationships even when people you trust get in your face and tell you to dump his/her ass.  Giselle is the representation of love itself…she doesn’t technically love Albrecht (she didn’t even know who the hell he was!) but she was in love with the idea of being in love and I think her purity is the language of the heart.  She is the “butterflies in your stomach” feeling and because she is love personified, she is the most powerful character in the story…able to stand up to Myrtha, queen of the Wilis and ensure that Albrecht survives Myrtha’s forcing him to dance to death.  She is the heroine even if she dies…but as I said, her death and transformation into a Wili is symbolic.  Love changes when somebody hurts you and you may be able to forget about it someday but it probably never goes away for good.  Which Bruhn probably understood better than anyone, given his relationship with Nureyev…which by the way, HELLO.  I had no idea that ever happened…how behind the times am I?  Bruhn & Nureyev is huge…like bigger than Alina & Johan huge…hell, bigger than Brad & Angelina huge.  This is galactic huge.

At any rate, I didn’t really feel sorry for Bruhn’s Albrecht…not enough Jewish guilt for me to sympathize.  Naturally, I would feel more for a character like James in La Sylphide because he forsakes a relationship he doesn’t want to be in only to accidentally kill the Sylph he pursues…Albrecht knows full well what he’s doing all along, that he’s fooling Giselle into thinking he’s just a villager named Loys and not Count Albrecht, fiancée of Berthilde.  Rather than finding him passionate or romantic I kind of wanted to whack him on the schnoz with a rolled up newspaper (which by the way, I don’t think is very effective for training dogs.  Humans on the other hand…they can be taught).  But I do understand him…if Giselle is the personification of love, we have to remember that love makes us do stupid things.  More than understand, I can forgive him too.

As far as the film itself, there were some interesting moments of cinematography that added another dimension to the ballet, particularly in the second act with having Albrecht dance in the middle of the Wilis in the round (which I think makes them more menacing and enhances the sense that Albrecht is really trapped), with some beautiful aerial shots that would make Busby Berkeley proud.  Also the way the camera focus was blurred for when the Wilis would materialize from in and out of the trees added to the etherealness.  However, I think the editing needed to be edited…as in, there was too much different camera angles and unimportant shots of random animals in the first act or rippling reflections in the second act (like, yeah I got it the first time…but it was quite unnecessary).  There’s even a scene with a hunting part on horseback and they shot it from the horse’s perspective, so the camera is tossed around while the horse gallops and you get lovely images of another horse’s ass getting all jiggy with it in front of you.  I really could have done without that.  But all in all, a good first Giselle experience and I enjoyed Fracci and Bruhn very much.  If you’re impervious to motion sickness and frenetic editing, you may want to give this one a watch.  Whole thing on YouTube, in nine parts:

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One Response to “In a word…Giselle”

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  1. ‘Tis the season « You Dance Funny, So Does Me - December 25, 2010

    […] I’ve seen is the American Ballet Theater made-for-film version with Carla Fracci and Erik Bruhn (read my review), much of which I’ve forgotten because I have the memory of a platypus but having never seen a […]

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