She’s Just a Small Town Girl

27 May

A staging of Giselle is like a family recipe for apple pie—sweet, simple, and familiar.  However, there are of course unique touches that make each production distinct, and probably the most recent one to have been filmed for a DVD release is the Dutch National Ballet’s staging, with additional choreography by Rachel Beaujean and Ricardo Bustamente.  This was filmed in February of 2009, with Anna Tsygankova in the title role and Jozef Varga as Albrecht.  Admittedly, I knew very little about the ‘Het Nationale Ballet,’ though I’m sure 99% of people who have ever procrastinated by watching ballet videos on YouTube have of course seen that short video clip of Sofiane Sylve (now with San Francisco Ballet) performing some of the most spectacular pirouettes ever, in William Forsythe’s Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude and the coda from The Nutcracker.  I don’t have to post it…but here you go (at least, for those readers who actually have lives and honestly haven’t seen this before):

I really wish both of these performances were on DVD…you can see Marcelo Gomes was her partner in Nutcracker for a split second at the very end, and he simply isn’t filmed enough and I love, no, LOVE what I’ve seen of Vertiginous (it’s to the Finale of Schubert’s Symphony no.9 in C! Hi, amazing!).

At any rate, it’s possible that the company simply hasn’t had a lot of exposure to international audiences, as DVDs are fairly new for them, having only released a handful thus far: Sleeping Beauty (2004), Giselle (2009), and most recently a recording of Alexei Ratmansky’s Don Quichot (2011) in addition to Hans van Manen Festival and Hans van Manen: Nederlands Dans Theater, HET Nationale Ballet, which obviously feature works by Hans van Manen, a famous Dutch choreographer who really ought to have more recognition outside of Europe.  Both NDT and the Het have been in the news as of late though, due to funding cuts proposed by the Dutch government, as much as 26% for the Het, which is a huge blow, and even worse is cutting 50% for Nederlands Dans Theatre, Jiří Kylián’s contemporary dance company.  It’s devastating for both companies for different reasons…an insult to downgrade NDT to a “regional company” when his choreography is seen worldwide (Pacific Northwest Ballet included!), and for Dutch National Ballet, a diminishment of status as one of the top international ballet companies.  The Dutch National Ballet has eighty dancers, which is just under a top tier company like American Ballet Theater boasting just over ninety, and the effort to release these films has them just on the edge to gain more notoriety. Hup hup, Holland! Get it together and support the legacy of your arts…they are far greater than you may know! (Petitions for the NDT and Het can be found here and here, respectively, and I encourage you to show your support!).

I have to say that I was incredibly impressed with the Dutch National Ballet’s production of Giselle, and that they deserve every ounce of support available, not only to help them preserve what they have, but also to push them further into the international spotlight.  I would even say that while different, the quality of it is on par with the Royal Ballet. They’re certainly not lacking in talent and I definitely got a sense of their company’s identity throughout their Giselle…they prize exceptionally clean technique, squareness in the pelvis and torso, a lot of emphasis on épaulement, and some of the most marvelously articulate feet I’ve ever seen.  It’s clear in their choice of technique that they train a lot of “rolling” through the feet. A dancer can either spring up onto pointe, or roll through every little joint and muscle to get there, and perhaps harder (and often neglected) is rolling down, which requires incredible resistance in order to not plunk down onto your heels.  Though both techniques are acceptable, rolling does make pointe work much softer.  The Russians that train Vaganova technique favor springing, so they don’t often exhibit as much control in that minute but important transition.  What I found interesting was that distinguishing demi-pointe and full pointe was further exhibited when any of the dancers did what’s called a ‘tombé piqué en dehors’ (or more colloquially, a ‘step-over turn’ or ‘lame duck’). A popular technique is to fall in the tombé into a demi-plié, but the Dutch keep their heels up and step onto demi-pointe. Not all of the dancers were entirely comfortable with this, but the effect is very smooth, and the award for best feet definitely goes to Michele Jimenez and her delightful solo in the Peasant Pas de Quatre…she’s ridiculously good.

The Dutch certainly prefer a more sophisticated Giselle with a rustic feel.  While other productions are quaint, borderline hammy, or even a little too moony, this Giselle is toned down, mature, and very elegant.  Tsygankova found a great balance of portraying a character that is shy and naïve, but with a little more woman to her rather than young girl.  Her mad scene was extremely convincing, and there were a lot of moments before that where gestures cautiously alluded to her heart condition (this one is not a suicide Giselle, or one that dies solely of a broken heart).  I loved her in Act II, where she favored good placement instead of hiked up her hips for higher extensions.  For example, in the short adagio before the iconic pas de deux, Giselle performs a simple arabesque penché with her arms gently crossed in front of her, and Tsygankova really stays over her supporting leg, taking care not to hyper-extend her knee and “sit back” in her penché.  By keeping her pelvis square and her back even, her leg does not go to 180°, but the line between her back and leg was just perfect.

Not Act II, but a lovely variation from Anna Tsygankova:

Vargas is a fantastic Albrecht, electing to portray a version that requires some sympathy, rather than the lusty cad often seen in other stagings. In an interview that’s part of the additional features, Varga discusses why he doesn’t think of Albrecht as a bad person—he’s someone that is caught between love and obligations due to social status.  Albrecht is also a victim of his own naïveté, a sort of “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence” situation where he sees these jovial villagers but doesn’t fully understand what the life of a peasant entails.  Logically speaking, I like this because in other productions one has to wonder if the impetus for Albrecht’s remorse is simply a sense of responsibility over a girl’s death, due to his promiscuity.  Varga’s Albrecht was truly in love with Giselle, and feels regret that he never had a chance to explain the truth himself. With strong acting skills and technical brilliance, Varga just looks so natural and calm. I really like his arabesque line, and also during his Albrecht variation, there’s a double attitude turn en dehors, quite possibly one of the most heinous steps in all of ballet…there’s no other way to describe it than difficult, because the whole time your leg just wants to fly away from you.

Exceptional soloists in the Peasant Pas de Quatre…I already mentioned Jimenez, and the others were Maia Makhateli, Mathieu Gremillet, and Arthur Shesterikov (Gremillet did a double tour in his variation where he landed in a perfect fifth and didn’t budge…my jaw dropped—no shifting feet or bouncing out of it!).  The corps de ballet was also superb throughout, an utter joy to watch but one of the things that really made this production was Igone de Jongh’s Myrtha—absolutely steely presence and this was one area where clarity in her épaulement really accentuated the character.  The Dutch épaulement (or perhaps Beaujean and Bustamente’s choreography) really finds interesting facings, and it’s another aspect of training that is sometimes neglected, and in some cases considered a lost art.  In fact, a lot of what the Dutch do in terms of épaulement, working through the feet, square hips, and even the body types of the dancers seemed more of a throwback to Romantic era ballet.  The only beanpole was Jan Zerer as Hilarion, who I really enjoyed watching in Act I, but something was off in Act II…I could see the desperation and fear, but there just wasn’t enough oomph for me. Though it’s unfair for me to say this, my current theory is that his height worked against him a bit because when you have that much more to work with, you have to be all the more expressive.

Peasant Pas de Quatre

Overall, the Dutch National Ballet does a very well balanced Giselle, emotional without being melodramatic and sophisticated is really the best way I can describe it. The only thing I honestly didn’t like was Bathilde’s costume, a monstrous blue and ivory striped dress (you may have caught a glimpse of it in the Peasant Pas) that I was incredibly resistant to.  Sometimes I like to see the thirty-two entrechat six for Albrecht in Act II (though I swear it’s usually more like twenty-four, if that) although Varga does two diagonals of brisés travelling forward followed by ten entrechat six, which I felt made sense because the diagonal of brisés heads straight towards Myrtha, kind of like a “Myrtha™ tractor beam” that’s pulling him in, which emphasizes her control over him and the “forcing him to dance to his death” thing.  There is an additional variation for Albrecht in Act I though, which is an interesting touch and kind of plays on his desire to have the same freedom as the peasants in the village, or perhaps that he thinks he can so easily live amongst them, when the truth is forgetting obligations doesn’t mean that they go away.

So friends, I highly recommend it, and if you get a chance to watch it (or you already have, live too!) I would love to hear your thoughts and see if you had the same positive reaction to it as I did…occasionally, I need confirmation that I’m not crazy. Meanwhile, check out some Act II highlights while you’re at it:

Advertisements

One Response to “She’s Just a Small Town Girl”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Please sir, I want some more « You Dance Funny, So Does Me - June 27, 2011

    […] quite a few in recent years, Paris Opera will do one every other year or so, and as I noted in my review of the Dutch National Ballet’s Giselle, they’re doing an amazing job of marketing themselves to new audiences. Unfortunately, the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: