Tag Archives: carla fracci

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:

Bournonville’s Sylph = Baltic amber

13 Nov

So I’ve been missing in action this week, and this may or may not be my only entry (but it’s a good one!).  After all, when your two best friends are in town, you gotta do what you gotta do (which for us, means eating a lot of tasty treats and taking pictures of ourselves in this wooden cutout of prairie dogs at the Columbus zoo…among other perfectly normal things).  And what I gotta do is play!  Ellen DeGeneres was on Oprah recently, and one thing she said that I absolutely loved and whole heartedly agree with was that “everybody stops playing when they get older.”  It’s so applicable to dance as well…I think that one should be able to go into a studio, at any age, laugh, have a good time and make the studio your happy place.  I know I do, and it’s pretty easy if you’ve had teachers like a Karen Eliot (if that’s her real name), who always manages to make me laugh.  I also think nurturing the inner child is what delights ballet audiences and brings us back again and again.  Some stick in the mud pragmatic adult would convince themselves to spend the money on other things or that ballet is for dreamers, while we dance audiences can barely wait until the next show and never cease to be amused by the ethereal.  So brava dance fans…you’re doing wonderful things for your inner child.

Anywhodle, I just finished watching The Royal Danish Ballet’s production of La Sylphide, choreographed by August Bournonville.  All I can say is, I immediately added this one to my amazon.com wish list.  It’s a gem…Baltic amber if you will recall (because amber perfectly preserves a plant or creature inside of it, blah blah blah while other ballets are fossils that only offer traces of what once existed, blah blah blah, I’m a paleontology geek, and that’s the metaphor that works for me.  I nurture my inner child via dance and dinosaur bones).  I will say that I might like the score for the original La Sylphide better, but Herman Løvenskiold’s quite wonderful as well.  Maybe you get what you paid for, and it’s not that I disliked Løvenskiold’s score, just musically I’m pretty sure I liked the other one better.  Bournonville’s Sylphide wins everything else though, and the score may have even worked against Lacotte.  For one thing, Bournonville’s Sylphide is just over an hour while Lacotte had roughly an additional half an hour.  Now having watched Bournonville’s, and how he decided to interpret the libretto, I almost feel like Lacotte didn’t know what to do with the extra thirty minutes.  I’ll chalk it up to poor time management skills because he crammed Gurn and Effie’s “engagement” into the first act as an afterthought, while Bournonville placed a significant exchange with Madge in the second act, which to me gave Effie and Gurn’s relationship (as well as the character of Gurn himself) much more significance.  Even the procession is brought downstage, right in front of James, rather than being distant in the background, which for lack of a better term was totally rubbing it in his face.  It makes his devastation over having lost both the Sylph and Effie more believable.

Lacotte’s costuming was an eye sore too.  The bright red and sky blue plaids were bizarre, and The Royal Danish Ballet’s plaids were predominantly the typical reds, greens and yellows, with the shades being earthier and not so crayon-ish.  Reminds me of my days as the assistant stage manager for my high school’s production of Brigadoon, sifting through our massive costumes closet with the costumes crew, looking for plaids and kilts…it was a lot of dust and a lot of sneezing.  But I digress (although on the topic of costuming, I also liked Effie’s pigtails, because I am a proponent of pigtails for no logical reason, but then later on when it was revealed to be this odd bun plus pigtails hybrid contraption I was unnerved).  It’s weird to look back at the Lacotte Sylphide now, because I thought it was perfectly lovely at the time, but now there’s just so much that doesn’t make sense…like the whole pas de trois with James, Effie and the Sylph.  Bournonville’s Sylph has more nerve and sort of flits in and out when the characters besides James have their backs turned, but Lacotte’s inclusion of the Sylph in that pas de trois makes things confusing, as if to say James was hallucinating because he had the most epic case of cold feet ever, which doesn’t fall in line with the libretto at all.

I liked the portrayal of Madge a lot more in Bournonville’s Sylphide…she wasn’t so crone-ish.  Sorella Englund was fantastic, and she made this hilarious face at James when she’s telling him to hide the “scarf of doom” from the Sylph that actually made me snort from laughing (that and the moment when Gurn falls on his bum when the chair is pulled out from beneath him…totally didn’t see that one coming.  Oh, early 19th century humor.)  Lis Jeppesen was a gorgeous Sylph, and she has this wonderfully open chest, or as friend Svetlana would say, a “beautiful bony sternum” (man, I need to figure out how to get one of those!).  One thing I really noticed, and I’m not entirely sure if it was part of the choreography itself or the Bournonville style was how creamy the port de bras of all the Sylphs were.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such soft arm movements, and it really added to the spritely, floating quality of the Sylphs, and sharply contrasted the rigidity of Jeppesen’s arms at the end during her death scene.  It wasn’t some romanticized, lyrical death like a swan a la Fokine, but a butterfly’s final twitches before it dies.  I felt Jeppesen’s interpretation of the Sylph to be much more indicative of an otherworldly fairy, while Lacotte’s choreography had Dupont looking more like a shy, tentative child.  Nikolaj Hübbe was…flawless (and quite handsome) as James, and there was this wonderful moment in the second act, where he’s walking amongst the Sylphs, and he had this fascination like a child in the summertime, walking amongst fireflies.  Of course his dancing was superb, with such clean batterie and quick, articulate legs and feet.  I almost think Bournonville saw legs as being equal to arms; the same speed and control with which we can maneuver are arms should be possible with the legs.

I actually got a chance (thanks to Karena) to have a go at Bournonville petite allegros, and I have to say they were among the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in ballet.  If there’s ever an argument for muscle memory, Bournonville allegros would be it, because there is no way you can think your way through them; your body has to KNOW them.  Otherwise, you get lost and you’re screwed.  There were so many quick changes of facings, like a mini tour jeté in the opposite direction that you wouldn’t naturally think of, lots of little transition steps that required precision, and of course little tippity-dips and shooby-doos with beats and whatnot.  The sensation of doing Bournonville allegros can be likened to being thrown into a cotton candy machine…it’s sweet, light and fluffy, but you’re just kind of along for the ride.  You’re not in control of your own body (your mind is definitely not in control), but in some ways that almost feels more like…dancing.  Because your body is just doing it, and once it knows how, you’re free to dance with your face and add the icing.

So this DVD is a must, and although the full version isn’t on YouTube there are some really interesting videos like one of Ellen Price dancing the opening variation in 1903!  It really is incredible that the choreography is exactly the same, and delightful as ever.

Another video of note that I found particularly moving was Erik Bruhn and Carla Fracci.  Bruhn, I think I read somewhere is said to be one of the greatest James of all time, although there is no full length recording of him in the ballet, just the grand pas de deux.  They left me speechless.  Must. See. More. Erik Bruhn.

And lastly, just for fun, current Royal Ballet principal Johan Kobborg, as Madge.  Why?  Because he’s awesome, and cross-dressing in ballet is fantastic.