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American Ballet Theatre

Giselle 2014
Ballet in Two Acts

Metropolitan Opera House

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

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 21, 2014

(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.

Cast on June 17, 2014:

Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins, Performed by Polina Semionova as Giselle, David Hallberg as Count Albrecht, Thomas Forster as Hilarion, the village huntsman, Luis Ribagorda as Wilfred, the squire, Nancy Raffa as Berthe, Giselle’s mother, Roman Zhurbin as The Prince of Courland, Luciana Voltolini as Bathilde, the prince’s daughter, Yuriko Kajiya and Craig Salstein as Peasant Pas de Deux, Veronika Part as Myrta, Melanie Hamrick as Moyna, Stephanie Williams as Zulma, and the Company as Court Ladies and Gentlemen, Giselle’s Friends, Villagers, and The Wilis.

Cast on June 21, 2014:

Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Alina Cojocaru as Giselle, David Hallberg as Count Albrecht, Jared Matthews as Hilarion, the village huntsman, Alexei Agoudine 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, Yuriko Kajiya and Craig Salstein as Peasant Pas de Deux, Stella Abrera as Myrta, Christine Shevchenko as Moyna, Zhong-Jing Fang as Zulma, and the Company as Court Ladies and Gentlemen, Giselle’s Friends, Villagers, and The Wilis.

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).

In an interesting combo of two performances of Giselle, David Hallberg was Count Albrecht both nights, due to Herman Cornejo’s injury. Toward the end of this Ballet Theatre season, a few injuries forced last minute cast changes. I had chosen Mr. Hallberg for the 17th, with Polina Semionova as Giselle, because they’re such extraordinary partners. For the 21st, I chose Alina Cojocaru and Mr. Cornejo, so matched in physique and personality, a spritely ebullient duo, but, in the shift, the vibe shifted as well. Mr. Hallberg is now, with a couple of years of Bolshoi training behind him, more serene, emotionally restrained, regal, and taut in muscularity.

On the 17th, in the Bavarian village square, bordering the Rhine, Ms. Semionova is a tall Giselle, mature in spirit, refined yet impulsive, a character that commands the stage. Mr. Hallberg responds in spirit, as this ballet partnership is now seasoned and accomplished. They fit together in the Act I “he loves me” daisy scene, in the harvest celebration, when Giselle is crowned and feted. They also fit in the Act II forest glade scene, near the graves, when the Wilis spring from the ground and float en air in solos and ensemble magic. When Albrecht tries to catch the elusive Giselle, now a Wili, and again in their two Pas de Deux, before and during the efforts of Myrta and her Wilis to drive Albrecht over the cliff, entrapped by Wilis after dark, they create visual magic. Yet, although Ms. Semionova was ethereal, polished, and sophisticated, she never loses her “ballerina” persona. She relates to the audience, even in character, aware of applause and accolades. Mr. Hallberg, with Ms. Semionova, also seemed in Bolshoi stage persona, ready to bask in sustained adoration.

On the 21st, the partnering effect was different. Mr. Hallberg is not a standard partner of Ms. Cojocaru, who seemed half his height. In their Pas de Deux, Mr. Hallberg, although tender, towered over the diminutive Giselle, who played the part with humility and shyness. He seemed more like a big brother than a lover. Ms. Cojocaru’s footwork in the first forest Pas de Deux was rapid, soaring, and more emotional than Ms. Semionova’s, who had performed with studious grace. Ms. Cojocaru was lithe, dramatic, in the moment, even a bit improvisational. Mr. Hallberg bent down and curved his back often, to lift this new Wili, less in the mood of tragic remorse than when lifting Ms. Semionova. His en air jumps to the side, as he flees the charged line of Wilis, commanding him toward the cliff, seemed forced, pained, and half the elevation of past seasons. The effortless bounce was diminished. I was sorry that Mr. Cornejo wasn’t onstage, at this point, with his perfectly suited partnership for Ms. Cojocaru, in size and spirit.

As Hilarion, Albrecht’s nemesis, who reveals Albrecht’s princely status to Giselle, hoping she’ll drop the false peasant who calls himself Loys, Thomas Forster on the 17th was more persuasive than Jared Matthews on the 21st, who was less menacing. Yet both performed with theatricality and angst. Yuriko Kajiya with Craig Salstein danced the Peasant Pas de Deux on both nights. It would have been more special to have Ms. Kajiya partnered by her fiancé, Jared Matthews, as they both leave the Company soon for the Houston Ballet. But, Mr. Salstein was enthused and effusive, as always, and well suited to Ms. Kajiya’s virtuosity. She will truly be missed. Nancy Raffa on the 17th and Susan Jones on the 21st were in the role of Berthe, Giselle’s mother, who implores her daughter, to no avail, not to strain her weak heart in village dance. Ms. Jones is the quintessential mother (and nurse, in Romeo…), but Ms. Raffa shines as Carabosse, when Sleeping Beauty is in repertoire.

Luis Ribagorda and Alexei Agoudine were in the role of Wilfred, the Count’s squire, on the 17th and 21st respectively, with both engaging and requisitely dedicated to Albrecht’s welfare. But, the lead secondary role is Myrta, queen of the Wilis, and both Veronica Part on the 17th and Stella Abrera on the 21st were resplendent and severe. Ms. Abrera danced with feather-light airiness, determination, and strength. Ms. Part was fluid, with large leaps and wide gaze. Roman Zhurbin was a superb Prince of Courland both nights, with small, meaningful gestures, and his daughter, Bathilde, was Luciana Voltolini on the 17th and Luciana Paris on the 21st. I always prefer Ms. Paris in this role, first made famous by the late Jennifer Alexander, years ago. Ms. Paris exemplifies Albrecht’s betrayed fiancée. As Moyna and Zulma, Myrta’s lead Wilis, Christine Shevchenko and Zhong-Jing Fang on the 21st were most impressive.

Although Gianni Quaranta’s sets could use refreshing or replacement, they still work well, as lighting is strong in the village scenes and dim in the glade, when highlighted, dry ice fog works well for visual effect. One of the most melodic of ballet scores, Adolphe Adam’s music for Giselle should be performed with emphasis on drama and poignant quietude. Maestro David LaMarche on the 21st caught the musical meaning and shifting pulse with aplomb. Kudos to Kevin McKenzie for beautifully staging and frequently presenting this hypnotic and gripping ballet.

Polina Semionova in
the Coralli/Perrot/Petipa "Giselle"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Alina Cojocaru in
the Coralli/Perrot/Petipa "Giselle"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

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