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American Ballet Theatre: Giselle 2008
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American Ballet Theatre: Giselle 2008

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American Ballet Theatre

A Romantic Ballet in Two Acts
Metropolitan Opera House

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Executive Director
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
Susan Morgan, Press Associate

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 10, 2008

(Read More ABT Reviews)

Giselle (1841, Paris, 1987, Current Production, ABT): Choreography after Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, and Marius Petipa, Libretto by Theophile 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 Program Notes).

Cast on July 7, 2008:

Conductor: David LaMarche
Performed by Nina Ananiashvili as Giselle, Angel Corella as Count Albrecht, Gennadi Saveliev as Hilarion, the village huntsman, Carlos Lopez as Wilfred, the squire, Karin Ellis-Wentz 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, Gillian Murphy as Myrta, Melissa Thomas as Moyna, Zhong-Jing Fang as Zulma, and the Company as Court Ladies and Gentlemen, Giselle’s Friends, Villagers, and The Wilis.

Cast on July 10, 2008:

Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins
Performed by Xiomara Reyes as Giselle, Herman Cornejo as Count Albrecht, Isaac Stappas as Hilarion, the village huntsman, Carlos Lopez as Wilfred, the squire, Susan Jones as Berthe, Giselle’s mother, Roman Zhurbin as The Prince of Courland, Melissa Thomas as Bathilde, the prince’s daughter, Yuriko Kajiya and Craig Salstein as Peasant Pas de Deux, Michele Wiles as Myrta, Maria Riccetto as Moyna, Zhong-Jing Fang as Zulma, and the Company as Court Ladies and Gentlemen, Giselle’s Friends, Villagers, and The Wilis.

Every time I see Giselle, a new detail is revealed. Not that I didn’t notice that detail in previous years, but just that on a particular night, something new happens to capture the imagination. This week, I noticed and admired the way an early princely gesture, like one hand clasped behind the back, enables the audience to catch the true royal breeding of Count Albrecht, aka Loys, the peasant lover. I also noticed the visual and musical previews that echo repeatedly, such as Myrta’s lead motion with her mystical rosemary branches, that’s followed by the corps of Wilis, as they are revealed in the forest. In the Adolphe Adam score, the Act I scene of peasant motifs, such as the plucking of the daisy petals and the spritely dances in solo and pas de deux, contains musical hints later expanded in the Act I mad scene and the subsequent Act II dance for survival by Giselle and Albrecht. This impressionistic structure played in my memory for days, as did snippets of the score, with their lovelorn, impassioned innuendo.

On July 7, from the moment Nina Ananiashvili arrived onstage, the audience was breathless in anticipation of her theatrical and technical superiority in this iconic role, in full awareness that this week could see her final Giselle, as she retires next season, and the 2009 Calendar is not yet decided. Of all Ms. Ananiashvili’s current partners, it is obvious that Angel Corella most suits her mood and manner. They sparkle together and feed off each other’s dazzling dynamism, and both Principals possess an innate dramatic persona that drives the unfolding scenario. Ms. Ananiashvili added her famous extra, en pointe moments, and as the mad scene began, she hid her face first, slowly turning in film noir fashion. In Act II, the dance for Albrecht’s survival, as the Wilis surround him and line up facing the cliff, where he would be thrown, Ms. Ananiashvili and Mr. Corella propel their legs and feet into mid-air aerobics: tiny back and forth foot flutter, plus rapid spins (Mr. Corella), plus rapid en air leaps and hops (Ms. Ananiashvili), with lifts and lunges galore. Every moment is refined and imprinted for posterity, and the audience responded with the “Nureyev-styled confetti”, ripped program pages, winding through the air from the highest right balcony. Somebody remembered how to revive this historical tribute.

On July 10, after experiencing the performance above, a truly hard act to follow, I was delighted with Herman Cornejo’s debut as Albrecht (although I understand he had filled in during this week’s matinee). His partner was Xiomara Reyes, who is now seasoned in the role, but still the refreshing ingénue. Last year, Mr. Cornejo was still confined to the roles of secondary characters or of brief, dynamic feats. This year I saw him in leads in The Sleeping Beauty and Giselle, and in both cases he performed with masterful proficiency. Tonight’s Giselle was authentically youthful, spontaneous, and amorous. It was also quite a show, as Mr. Cornejo’s stature (like Mr. Corella’s) is taut and muscular, with brisk and vigorous skill. His partnership with Ms. Reyes grew throughout the evening, as Mr. Cornejo executed the “survival dance” with mid-air athleticism and flashy theatrics. In time, he will round out that tone, but there remained an element of surprise, a wonderful feature in a well-worn ballet. Ms. Reyes exuded passion and sensitivity, and, at the curtain call, she stood applauding Mr. Cornejo.

Hilarion, Albrecht’s rival for Giselle’s hand, seemed more believable on July 10, in the hands of Isaac Stappas, who gave an exceptional performance in Act II, when driven into wild spins, before rolling off the cliff. After all, men should not tread into the forest glade of the Wilis, between midnight and 4 AM. Gennadi Saveliev, on July 7, seemed a bit overpowering in stature to the leads, and his histrionics did not seem internalized or vivid. Gillian Murphy, Myrta on July 7, cannot be outdone, as this is one of her quintessential roles. In contrast to her wild Kitri in Don Quixote and her poignant Nikiya in La Bayadère, her Myrta is just severe enough and just human enough, with all the requisite refinement in the lead Wili solos. When she rejects Albrecht’s and Hilarion’s pleas, she builds an emotional wall, palpable and persuasive. Michele Wiles, Myrta on July 10, had been the quintessential Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, but she needs to work on her steel as Myrta. Myrta is an unforgiving character, and her goal is to drive male intruders to an untimely, swift demise. But, Ms. Wiles was exquisite and personified in her solos and dramatic gesture.

As Berthe, Giselle’s mother, Susan Jones, on July 10, as always, fit this maternal, foreboding role, with mesmerizing mime and an air of prescience. Karin Ellis-Wentz, on July 7, seemed too young for Ms. Ananiashvili’s mother, but she humanized the role with depth. Victor Barbee was the quintessential Prince, on July 7, while Roman Zhurbin, on July 10, was physically and emotionally suited to the cast of the evening. Yuriko Kajiya and Craig Salstein added personality and vivaciousness to the July 10 Peasant Pas de Deux, while Maria Riccetto and Jared Matthews, on July 7, were more subdued, but charming. Kristi Boone and Melissa Thomas, as Albrecht’s secret fiancée, Bathilde, were both convincing, as Albrecht’s duplicity and Giselle’s despair unfold. The Corps, as The Wilis, is a true star of Act II. The synchronized imagery, of hopping en pointe, one leg lifted, in ethereal white, gauzy costumes, and of the bridal veils being lifted in unison from the wings, is always awesome and riveting. The Wilis have several ensemble sequences, and there is no room for a shift from the structure. They hop en pointe, they encircle Hilarion and then Albrecht, and they line up repeatedly to gather their primal force en masse. The ABT Corps is extraordinary.

Both David LaMarche and Ormsby Wilkins met the nuanced challenges of the rapturous score, and, for each lead, they allowed extra time for that extra extension, that extra second en air. Kudos to Adolphe Adam, Coralli, Perrot, and Petipa. Kudos to Kevin McKenzie, ABT’s Artistic Director, for another superior Season.

Nina Ananiashvili and Angel Corella in Giselle
Courtesy of MIRA

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