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Reconsidering Giselle

Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
02/17/2012 -  & February 18, 19* (Miami), 24, 26 (Fort Lauderdale), & March 9, 11 (Palm Beach), 2012
Adolphe Adam: Giselle, ou les Wilis
The Miami City Ballet: Tricia Albertson (Giselle), Renan Cerdeiro (Albrecht), Renato Penteado (Hilarion), Callie Manning (Berthe & Myrtha), Yann Trividic (Prince), Suzanne Limbrunner (Bathilde), Didier Branaz (Wilfried), Nathalia Arja and Kleiber Rebello (Peasant Pas de Deux), Ashley Knox & Zoe Zien (Two Wilis) and corps de ballet
Opus One Orchestra, Gary Sheldon (Conductor)
Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot (choreography), Edward Villella (director), Gianni Quaranta (Scenic Design), John Dunning (Costume Design), John Hall (Lighting Design)

(Courtesy of MCB)

Giselle is for many of us a very puzzling work. Musically it is only sometimes illuminating and more often than not pretty run-of-the-mill. The choreography isn’t particularly interesting either. Lots of posing and pantomime, and only when the corps does its great work in the second act do we really feel a sense of energy. The characters are not special and the storyline is a particularly labored one about nasty female fairies taking vengeance on men. Look as hard as you can, you will find no humor, nor is there much sex appeal. No need to explain more, look it up at Wikipedia. So why has this been one of the world’s most popular ballets since its premiere in 1841? If you are a critic, it is okay if you didn’t like it the first few times because you will get a free ticket to see it again and maybe it will finally click. But there are millions who were mesmerized the first time. I envy them because I am still working at it, and won’t give up.
But this is supposed to be dance. Of course, dancing can be defined in many ways, but looking at this ballet now is sort of mind numbing when one considers how much different we evaluate this art form today. Quite frankly, Giselle moves at a snail’s pace. That isn’t to say that those who love it just as it is will not continue doing so, and they will undoubtedly have many chances to for the next 50 years. But will a piece that is now so static in comparison to today’s ballet be able to survive into the 22nd century?

In order to ensure this, why doesn’t an ambitious choreographer open his or her mind to rethinking the piece? No, not updating it to bring in some new psychological dimension, this is after all the world of fairies and princes. But this ballet needs some fun, some life. Suggesting to “Disneyfy” anything is a sacrilege to many of us, but some sort of resuscitation could really benefit Giselle’s future.

It isn’t the plot that is the fault. Fairytales make great ballets as we eagerly revert to the innocence of childhood during the two hours we set aside. It is the never ending artificial posturing that makes this an artifact that many can no longer find fascinating. This is not a ballet to offer to first timers.
But coming at it with enough previous experience, even a non-lover of Giselle would have much to find rewarding in this production. Most importantly it is never boring; the dancers are all dedicated and never patronize the material. The production is lovely to look at with a first act set that emphasizes the significance of the aristocracy is in the lives of the peasants. The peasant costumes are lovingly understated and the ones for the monarchs and their entourage are never garish.

Tricia Albertson was a winning Giselle and by the end a very touching heroine. Her Albrecht, Renan Cerdeiro does not have the physique of a classical ballet lover. His legs are very long and thin yet he uses his equipment in a thrillingly confident way that gives this oaf much more character than he deserves. Renato Penteado is such a masculine and devoted Hilarion that it doesn’t make sense that Giselle would have ever looked at anyone else. It always seems unkind that he ends up dead rather than his nemesis. The talented dancing actress Callie Manning does double duty as Giselle’s mother, Berthe and as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, two characters who couldn’t be more different in temperament.

So, at the end of the day, Giselle is what it is. For some it is elegant; for others at best a fascinating relic. But Miami City Ballet’s production gives it all. What more could we want?
Last season Miami City Ballet staged John Cranko’s 1962 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. People are still talking about it being one of their greatest theatrical experiences. And Cranko had obviously rethought the ballet from its 1940 premiere. Unfortunately, Mr. Cranko died almost 40 years ago, but there must be someone with his theatrical gift who can give Giselle a long overdue transfusion.

Giselle will be presented in Fort Lauderdale at the Broward Center February 24-26 and in Palm Beach at the Kravis Center March 9 -11

Jeff Haller



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