Giselle review: a moving act of defiance

Giselle review: a moving act of defiance

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A heightened emotion inevitably surrounded this production of Gisella by Alexei Ratmansky, once artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet and now a resident of New York but raised in Kiev, a Ukrainian passport holder and a powerful supporter of the Ukrainian war horror.

It is performed by a company of Ukrainian dancers now based in The Hague, some of whom have fled their homeland, all of whom have friends and family still there. The harsh reality of events was made brutally clear by the fact that on the eve of the London premiere, Ukrainian dancer and choreographer Oleksandr Shapoval was killed in a fight in the Donetsk region.

In such a context, the decision to affirm the cultural importance of dance and dancers in Ukraine is profoundly powerful. “Dancers have short careers but long traditions,” as the program notes, and the evening celebrates both in a moving way.

What Ratmansky did is use his dance detective instinct to organize a production Gisella which takes it back to its origins in 1841. You can argue whether this is always useful or dramatic, but it is indisputably fascinating to see a version of a family ballet that takes away some things and adds ingredients that are completely unknown compared to more recent versions.

Some of the tweens alter the effect of the ballet. Here, Giselle does not kill herself in desperation when she discovers that her beloved boyfriend, Albrecht, is engaged to another, as she does in Peter Wright’s version; she dies of a broken heart in a scene full of poignant stillness and not much running around. In the end she, even more surprisingly, she doesn’t just vanish into her grave after saving Albrecht from the Wilis, the vengeful female spirits who try to kill him, leaving him with the legacy of her betrayal. Giselle, on the other hand, sinks into the earth with a gesture of supreme forgiveness, giving the living the possibility of a future free from the mistakes of the past.

Some of the restored mimes are heavy and a little silly. Some of the new – or rather, old – sequences, such as the Wilis’ escape after Giselle and Albrecht sought refuge at the cross of his grave, feel fatigued. But the whole scene is danced with sincere understanding by dancers who have been working together (under the direction of Igone de Jongh) for just three months and who perform in costumes borrowed from the Birmingham Royal Ballet and, when it comes to minor, characters. : it looks like they come from a child’s box of disguises.

There isn’t much strength in depth, but the corps de ballet, with its graceful arms and supple backs, is charming as peasants hopping and as misty Wilis, moving in delicate unison. In both performances I have seen, the guest conductors were exceptional. On Tuesday, Christine Schevchenko, of the American Ballet Theater, was a gentle Giselle alongside Oleksii Tiutiuunyk’s Albrecht, her entrechats as high as her emotions.

Wednesday brought the surprise of Alina Cojocaru, always a wonderful Giselle, who returned to the role alongside Alexander Trusch’s unbridled prince, and filled the stage with an intensity so dramatic and painful that it added an extra layer of meaning and sentiment. to an already charged evening. In the second act, she was simply sublime, flying across the stage with a freedom and artistic skill that wordlessly underlined Ratmansky’s thesis for the value of art as an essential ingredient of life itself.

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