Glimpses of Romanticism
American Ballet Theatre opened its Kennedy Center run (two weeks this year!) with “Giselle,” currently its most solid production of the 19th century classics. This “Giselle” (staging uncredited) is choreographically sound and blessedly bereft of fashionably kinky notions, either of design or dramaturgy. The characters retain their original genders and are complex free, and there’s a serious attempt by the company to capture the spirit of Romanticism.
The sets, by Gianni Quaranta, show a conventional ballet village, with a huge castle in the middle of the backcloth, for Act I, but Act II is a real forest, and Jennifer Tipton’s lighting, especially the flashes of light, like sparks flying from its ghostly inhabitants darting about, is wonderfully atmospheric. Unfortunately, the costumes (Anna Anni) aren’t completely successful. Wilfrid’s coat hangs nearly to the floor, making the poor squire look as though he’s wearing hand me downs, and Bathilde’s fire engine red dress seems inappropriate for hunting, making us either see her as a temptress, or lets us think she mistrusts the aim of her comrades.
The production is so conventional that it needs Romantic passion to set it afire, and that was lacking for the most part opening night, although the dancing, especially of Julie Kent and Jose Manuel Carreño as Giselle and Albrecht, was as beautiful as one could wish. They seemed remote, however, as though they were dancing under glass, and there were times, especially in the second act pas de deux, when the dancing was so attenuated and self-referential that the story was almost lost beneath the image of a beautiful leg or perfectly pointed foot.
The dancing was a bit overcareful throughout; it took a day or two for the company to loosen up. Herman Cornejo’s beautifully strong and fluid, musical dancing in the peasant pas de deux (with Xiomara Reyes) was an exception.
There were moments of real passion in the first act: Monique Meunier’s fiery Bathilde was so interesting one wondered why Albrecht went astray. This production’s Bathildes all flounce off during Giselle's mad scene, which seems out of key with the graciousness she had earlier shown to Giselle. But Meunier made both actions part of her character’s spontaneity, and the dramatic exit worked. Walking out on Kent’s mad scene wouldn’t be easy; it would be awfully tempting to stick around, no matter how angry one was, to see how it turns out. Kent has always been a fine actress, and she goes mad in bold, fragmentary strokes, jerking like a terrified, cornered animal until she collapses in a broken heap.
Karin Ellis Wentz was especially fine as Giselle’s mother, delivering the rarely performed mime scene in which Berthe warns her daughter about the Wilis and the dangers of dancing, with a soft urgency as clear as speech.
In the second act’s ghostly rituals, Michele Wiles (Moyna) and Veronika Part (Zulma) were as fine a pair of lieutenant Wilis as I can remember, and needed a more commanding Myrta than Stella Abrera. Abrera’s dancing was very light, as though she were in “Les Sylphides” more gentle glade. When she led the Wilis off, triumphant after Hilarion’s death and smelling fresh blood, her dancing in that brief passage of jumps was exquisite, and far above the level of most of her band,, but she’s not quite ready for the big solos.
David LaMarche conducted John Lanchberry's orchestration with passion aplenty, but also, at times, a bit indulgently, stretching out some passages almost beyond endurance.
Photo on front page of Julie Kent in "Giselle" by Roy Round.
3, No. 5