Wonderful news leaping ladies and merry gentlemen, by virtue of your most gracious support I’ve made it to the final voting round of the Dance Advantage Top Dance Blogs of 2010 contest, in both my category and in the running for overall top blog! There is no better gift to me this Christmas than the blessings I have received from you the readers, and hope that the love continues in your reading of this blog and perhaps a vote or two in a couple of days…but before that, what is the meaning of Christmas? Gifts. I have no religious affiliations therefore the holiday means spending time with loved ones and exchanging gifts for me, and I feel no shame in that. Believe me when I say I don’t buy into commercialism, but I enjoy bestowing tokens of gratitude on those I care about and letting them know how valuable they are to me. The phrase “it’s the thought that counts” is no joke. Meanwhile, thinking funny thoughts, here’s my gift to you, brought to you by my odd, but distinct brand of humor:
With “gifts” in mind, I decided to treat myself to a gift I had bought for myself a few weeks ago, which is the Royal Ballet production of Giselle, starring Alina Cojocaru in the title role and Johan Kobborg as Albrecht. Having expanded my ballet DVD collection to a substantial three, Giselle was put in queue because of Swan Lake month and I felt today would be a good day for the initial viewing because I feel “the gift” is sort of a theme in the ballet. The only other Giselle 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 version on stage, in front of an audience, I was excited to watch this new one as if seeing the ballet for the first time. It’s a good time to re-familiarize myself with Giselle because Pacific Northwest Ballet will be doing a studio presentation on their production in the first week of January, discussing the Stepanov notation score they used to construct their staging. I’m not going to lie…I’m worried for PNB because historically, they have not had Romantic era ballets in their repertory and its style is so specific (and anti-Balanchine—let us not forget who coined the term “Gisellitis!”), but they seem to be taking a thoughtful, academic approach. They have their notation guy, a coach and it’s also nice to see that the company is willing to take a huge risk with Seattle audiences by doing something different. Besides, Carla Körbes (who I predicted early on would be a Giselle to watch) and the fabulous Carrie Imler will be dancing in the studio preview, which I should also note for the New Yorkers, will be presented at the Guggenheim on January 10th, so mark your calendars!
Anyway, back to the Royal Ballet, their production is staged by Sir Peter Wright, with additional choreography by him, supplementing the typical “Petipa after Jean Coralli/Jules Perrot” meat and potatoes. After enjoying Wright’s production of Swan Lake, I unsurprisingly enjoyed his Giselle too, in which he seemed to make it relatable to a modern audience. For example, rather than have Giselle die of a broken heart, she actually stabs herself with Albrecht’s sword. With society being less imaginative than that of two hundred years ago, it’s a decision that makes sense because the last thing a choreographer wants is for some little anachronism to be that one thing the audience refuses to accept, thus putting a damper on the whole experience. I found the sets delightfully realistic, albeit rather dark…I know it’s supposed to have a luminous, “enchanted forest” feel, but it could have done with just a little more lighting. However, I loved that the Myrtha and Wilis entered with chiffon veils to simple bourée steps…the effect is mesmerizingly ghostly.
The reason why I feel this ballet is about gifts should be fairly obvious; in Act I Giselle gives the gift of her heart to Albrecht and in Act II her gift is forgiveness by saving his life. What is less apparent is the gift of remorse—come again? In this sense, it is perhaps relevant to bring up that in German, “gift” means poison and Giselle arguably poisons Albrecht with remorse, thus destroying him as we see him throughout the ballet (a rather sleazy, borderline salacious cad) and thus liberating him of his insincerity. Whether Albrecht lives the rest of his days a wiser man is unknown to us, but I can see Wright’s Giselle as sort of empowering for women—while the suicide is unfortunately melodramatic, it’s a step above death by a broken heart because it puts Giselle in control of her own fate, and then it’s Albrecht’s fate in Act II that she calls the shots on. Also, we see a formidable villain in Myrtha, though in a way, I actually came to understand her more through Marianela Nuñez’s interpretation of the character. Throughout her opening solo, I couldn’t help but feel that Nuñez’s Myrtha wasn’t merely a man-hater, but also a woman scorned welcoming Giselle to her sisterhood of Wilis and as a result, not entirely evil. Nuñez brought a wonderful depth to the character, beyond the icy carapace most dancers of the role will opt for.
Alina Cojocaru’s dancing of Giselle is a gift in itself, and what I love about both her and Johan Kobborg is that neither is perhaps the typical (or expected) ballet body. Coco is quite tiny, far from the amazons seen in the Russian ranks or Balanchine America and Koko doesn’t have the long limbs seen in the male counterparts (and particularly the French—I swear the dancers with the Paris Opera Ballet must be giants). However, both Coco and Koko have beautifully trained physiques, wonderful proportions and superior technique, conducive to what is exactly needed for Romantic ballet; she with the lithe torso and he with the barrage of batterie, thanks to his training with the Royal Danish Ballet, which can be considered the last bastion of true Romantic ballet, given their Bournonville tradition. Don’t get me wrong, many companies can dance Bournonville and Giselle in stunning fashion; when it comes to the Danish, it’s ingrained into their method while other dancers must learn or be coached in the style later in their careers. At any rate, I even think Alina’s face makes for the perfect Giselle because her facial features seem to lend themselves to a near permanent look of timid worry…
That face, combined with her infinite lightness made for a wonderful partnership, which highlighted Koko’s jumps and acting ability in waves of pure chemistry. When Myrtha beckons Albrecht to do a series of entrechat six, I literally gasped at Koko’s ballon (translation: height) and superb technique. Spectacular beats of the legs require more than just fluttering feet, but a rebound—meaning, once the legs beat, the more they can separate in the air before beating again, the loftier the effect. I felt the whole production was spot on, with the only exception being Martin Harvey’s Hilarion, who was a little over the top for my tastes. At moments he had some bug-eyed looks (and I’ve had this problem before in watching Ethan Stiefel) which might be less distracting in a live performance, but for me, is a one-way ticket to looking like a lunatic. I guess it’s my pet peeve in watching ballet, but the crazy eyes never work for me and really just make dancers look insane. Hilarion is temperamental and maybe even a little chivalrous, but not demented.
Overall, this is a fantastic Giselle, a must for the ballet library and in case you didn’t get what you wanted for Christmas, you won’t regret buying this DVD for yourself. In the meantime, I leave you with Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg in the iconic Act II pas de deux, to entertain your thoughts until your purchase arrives: