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American Ballet Theatre

Giselle 2011

Metropolitan Opera House

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Executive Director
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters:
Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova, Georgina Parkinson
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
James Timm, Director of Marketing and Brand Management
Susan Morgan, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 1, 2011

(Read More ABT Reviews)

Giselle (1841, Paris, 1987, Current Production, ABT): Choreography after Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, and Marius Petipa, Staged by Kevin McKenzie, Libretto by Théophile Gautier, on a theme by Heinrich Heine, Orchestrated by John Lanchbery, Music by Adolphe Adam, Scenery by Gianni Quaranta, Costumes by Anna Anni, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton. Set near the Rhine, Hilarion, a hunter in love with villager, Giselle, leaves wild game and flowers on her doorstep. Count Albrecht, disguised as Loys, a peasant, swears love to Giselle and uses a “he loves me, he loves me not” daisy to prove his intentions. Loys and Hilarion wish to duel, but the villagers return, and Giselle risks her weak heart to dance for Bathilde, the prince’s daughter, part of a hunting party.

Bathilde gives Giselle her golden necklace, but havoc breaks loose when Giselle discovers that Loys is an imposter, affianced to Bathilde. Giselle dances herself to death of a broken heart and becomes a Wili, a maiden whose fiancée failed to marry her prior to her death. Wili Queen Myrta helps the Wilis dance and entrap men between dusk and dawn, and Hilarion meets a cruel fate. However, Albrecht is saved by Giselle, who dances with him until 4 AM, when the clock strikes, and the Wilis lose power. Giselle returns to her grave, with many calla lilies strewn about. (Based on ABT Program Notes).

Cast on May 27, 2011:

Conductor: Charles Barker
Performed by Diana Vishneva as Giselle, Marcelo Gomes as Count Albrecht, Gennadi Saveliev as Hilarion, the village huntsman, Alexei Agoudine as Wilfred, the squire, Susan Jones as Berthe, Giselle’s mother, Victor Barbee as The Prince of Courland, Kristi Boone as Bathilde, the prince’s daughter, Maria Riccetto and Jared Matthews as Peasant Pas de Deux, Veronika Part as Myrta, Isabella Boylston as Moyna, Yuriko Kajiya as Zulma, and the Company as Court Ladies and Gentlemen, Giselle’s Friends, Villagers, and The Wilis.

Cast on May 31, 2011:

Conductor: Charles Barker
Performed by Julie Kent as Giselle, Jose Manuel Carreño as Count Albrecht, Isaac Stappas as Hilarion, the village huntsman, Luis Ribagorda as Wilfred, the squire, Susan Jones as Berthe, Giselle’s mother, Roman Zhurbin as The Prince of Courland, Luciana Paris as Bathilde, the prince’s daughter, Misty Copeland and Craig Salstein as Peasant Pas de Deux, Gillian Murphy as Myrta, Melanie Hamrick as Moyna, Leann Underwood as Zulma, and the Company as Court Ladies and Gentlemen, Giselle’s Friends, Villagers, and The Wilis.

Cast on June 1, 2011:

Conductor: David LaMarche
Performed by Xiomara Reyes as Giselle, Angel Corella as Count Albrecht, Patrick Ogle as Hilarion, the village huntsman, Julio Bragado-Young as Wilfred, the squire, Kelley Boyd as Berthe, Giselle’s mother, Vitali Krauchenka as The Prince of Courland, Luciana Paris as Bathilde, the prince’s daughter, Yuriko Kajiya and Joseph Phillips as Peasant Pas de Deux, Simone Messmer as Myrta, Melanie Hamrick as Moyna, Kristi Boone as Zulma, and the Company as Court Ladies and Gentlemen, Giselle’s Friends, Villagers, and The Wilis.

In view of the fact that I saw Giselle this week with three different casts, one can assume this is one of my favorite ballets. Everything in this production is perfect, a two-act ballet, with an impassioned storyline, gorgeous choreography, especially for the Corps, exciting choreography, especially for both leads, and challenging choreography for all. Kevin McKenzie staged this 1841 ballet “after Perrot and Petipa”, but it’s been in Ballet Theatre repertory since 1940, for 71 years. The Adolphe Adam score plays in the mind for weeks after each viewing, so with three viewings it’s an intense mental concert. Anna Anni’s costumes include long white tulle tutus for the Act II women, puffed sleeve and laced peasant dresses for the Act I women, a gorgeous gown for the Prince’s daughter, a courtly hat and outfit for The Prince of Courland, and danceable peasant, then Princely attire for Albrecht. Gianni Quaranta’s scenery brings us to a bright Rhineland village square, then a dim clearing in the dense forest. Jennifer Tipton’s lighting shifts sharply from a sunny daytime Harvest dance, to an eerily lit dance of madness, to a dark gravesite in the forest, to a darker midnight dance for survival, and finally to a 4 AM dawn-like appearance, when the Wilis’ spell is broken.

Once you’re familiar with this ballet, it’s predictable and gripping, with the only surprises in the skill and dramatic interpretations of the leads. The Corps’ spotlighted dance is breathlessly anticipated, from the moment the bridal veils are pulled by invisible force, and each time the Wilis appear en masse, hopping in unison in intertwined fashion, they are warmly applauded and cheered. I begin with the Corps, because many of the non-lead roles, in this particular ballet, are as intrinsic to the success of the performance as are the lead roles. From the moment the Corps appears in Act II, one Wili at a time, flitting about in dark trees, in nymph-like glow, you’re drawn into a mesmerizing fairytale. When the Wilis dance in lines toward and through each other, there’s not a stray step or stop. Balance, attitude, poise, elevation are all perfect. Only in the ballet, La Bayadère do we see something similar, in the Kingdom of the Shades. In Act I, the Corps is effervescent in the harvest dances.

The three Giselles were Diana Vishneva (May 27), Julie Kent (May 31), and Xiomara Reyes (June 1). Ms. Vishneva exuded a mature, feminine aspect to her nature, which then translated to intense grief as Giselle, turned Wili. Her dance to death, sword circling the stage, was operatic in angst and fury. Ms. Kent was pale and fragile, seeming the most vulnerable of the three. After all, Giselle has a heart condition that frightens her mother into dire warnings, should Giselle test her fate. Ms. Reyes seemed the most youthful, innocent, and shattered. All three danced with dramatic depth, sorrowful languor, and perfected sideways kicks. They bent forward, head bowed, one leg upward at times. They all protected their Albrechts from Myrta and the Wilis, in the threat of being tossed over the cliff before 4 AM, when the Wilis’ spell is postponed again to dusk. Ms. Reyes, in particular, was most fine-tuned in evoking hints of the Wilis long before she falls lifeless in despair. Ms. Kent was most ghost-like, and Ms. Vishneva was most melodramatic.

The three Albrechts were, respectively, in partnering order with the three Giselles above, Marcelo Gomes, Jose Manuel Carreño, and Angel Corella, a trio of crème de la crème Principals, all seasoned in the role and with their partners. Mr. Gomes was completely attentive, nurturing, strong. He gave Ms. Vishneva space for internalized expressiveness, too. Mr. Carreño, soon to retire, was dancing his final Giselle, and Ms. Kent generously allowed him to receive numerous and intermittent accolades, throughout the evening. Mr. Corella appeared very few times this season, so his onstage presence was also lauded often and loudly. Each lead duo was perfectly matched, but the chemistry between Ms. Reyes and Mr. Corella was incomparable. They are physically and psychically at one, with obvious respect and admiration that goes beyond stage roles. Ms. Reyes is from Cuba, and Mr. Corella from Spain. This partnership is priceless. In the final scenes, with the Wilis bearing down in a straight line of dancers, pointing Albrecht to the cliff, the most riveting solo dances occur. It was here that Ms. Reyes and Mr. Corella were most proficient, elevated, astounding, but with Mr. Carreno’s drama unfolding, and considering his decades in the Company, he brought tears to the eyes. He still danced in his prime, with passion, pulse, power.

Gennadi Saveliev, Isaac Stappas, and Sascha Radetsky were the respective Hilarions, with Mr. Saveliev decidedly the most convincing, seething and gesturing in Act I, the rejected suitor, and spinning like a top in Act II, when the Wilis surround him and dance him off the cliff. The three Myrtas were Veronika Part, Gillian Murphy, and Simone Messmer, all persuasive and proud. Yet, it was Ms. Murphy who stood out, as this role gave her a chance to dance alongside Mr. Carreño, another pre-farewell visual, two outstanding Principals, dancing their hearts out, literally, as Myrta is the quintessential fiancée, abandoned before arriving at the altar, the Queen of the Wilis. Ms. Murphy was unflappable, and she danced with lightning speed and iron strength. Ms. Part is a softer Myrta, but as unforgiving, a tall, striking figure. Ms. Messmer was sensational, fully characterized, another operatic dramatization with flair. In the role of Wilfred, Albrecht’s squire, Julio Bragado-Young (June 1) was most energized and engaging. Susan Jones was Berthe, Giselle’s mother (May 27 and 31), far more personified than Kelley Boyd (June 1). Ms. Jones, a Ballet Master, literally becomes Berthe.

The Peasant Pas de Deux was especially enchanting and enervated with Misty Copeland and Craig Salstein (May 31), followed by Yuriko Kajiya and Joseph Phillips (June 1), who were youthful, buoyant, enticing. Maria Riccetto and Jared Matthews (May 27) seemed stiff and unconnected, in comparison. Kristi Boone (May 27) was the most compelling Bathilde, compared to Luciana Paris (May 31 and June 1). Ms. Boone walked away from Albrecht and Giselle’s tormented dance with an air of crisply refined rejection. As Moyna and Zulma, Myrta’s lead Wilis, Isabella Boylston and Yuriko Kajiya (May 27) were more dynamically presented with precise styling. Melanie Hamrick and Leann Underwood, then Kristi Boone (May 31 and June 1) filled the roles nicely, but not quite as powerfully. Victor Barbee (May 27) and Roman Zhurbin (May 31 and June 1) were equally astute as The Prince of Courland. Of the two Conductors, David LaMarche brought extra poignancy to the orchestral highlights of Act II, but Charles Barker’s orchestral results were superb, as always. Kudos to the Company, and kudos to Ballet Theatre Orchestra and Conductors.

Diana Vishneva in "Giselle"
Courtesy of MIRA

Julie Kent and Jose Manuel Carreño
in "Giselle"
Courtesy of Marty Sohl

Angel Corella in "Giselle"
Courtesy of Marty Sohl

Xiomara Reyes in "Giselle"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at