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It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in Boston Ballet's `Giselle'




Presented by the Boston Ballet

At the Wang Center

Through Oct. 11

Boston Ballet opens its 35th season with Giselle, one of the most passionate, most sorrowful and most beautiful of the Romantic Era ballets. This ballet of innocent young love and cruel betrayal was created by the Parisian poet Gautier in 1841. He was inspired by a story written by German poet Heinrich Heine describing the legend of the wilis--betrothed maidens who died before their wedding day because their hearts had been broken. Exacting revenge for their unrequited love, the spirits of these young maidens would rise from their graves at midnight and force any man they met to dance to his death.

Gisellepremiered in Paris on June 28th, 1841 and at the Bolshoi Ballet in Russia in 1842. Boston Ballet's current production, staged by artistic director Anna-Marie Holmes, maintains Russian tradition by exactly reproducing the highly acclaimed production ofGisellestaged by Leonid Lavrosky and the Bolshoi Ballet in 1944.

This ballet is a dynamic combination of acting, technique and artistry requiring the ballerina to be both technically strong and artistically mature in order to individualize and portray what is one of the most difficult and most legendary scenes in ballet--Giselle's mad scene at the end of the first act.

The ballet is in two acts and portrays the sorrowful love story of a young peasant girl, Giselle. The first act takes place in a rural village where it is harvest season. A frail young Giselle falls in love with a flirtatious Albrecht who is, unknown to her, a count disguising himself as a peasant. Albrecht quickly wins her heart and swears his love for her in a joyful scene which ends with Giselle pulling off the petals of a flower in a game of "He loves me, he loves me not."

The jealous peasant Hilarion, who also loves Giselle, reveals the true identity of Albrecht along with the fact that he is already betrothed to a princess. This cruel betrayal destroys Giselle and she goes mad, finally dying of a broken heart.

The second act takes place in a wooded graveyard where, at the stroke of midnight, the wilis are called up from their graves by Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. The hapless Hilarion is trapped by the wilis as he comes to mourn at Giselle's grave and is forced to dance to his death. A remorseful and grieving Albrecht sees Giselle's spirit in the graveyard and, after a sorrowful and loving pas de deux,he too becomes trapped by the wilis.

However, Giselle comes to his defense, as she truly loved him and he did truly love her. She helps Albrecht as he is forced to dance throughout the night, until finally the dawn breaks and the wilis drift back into their graves. Albrecht is saved through the strength and purity of Giselle's love, and Giselle's spirit is able to finally rest in peace, freed from the restlessness of the wilis through Albrecht's tender and remorseful love.

The opening cast paired Pollyana Ribeiro as Giselle and Patrick Armand as Albrecht. It was Ribeiro's first time as Giselle and while technically strong, she lacked the artistic refinement and softness that the role requires. She looked too young and cute for the frail and tender Giselle, and while she was technically adept--the balances held and the turns and jumps refined and light--it was unfulfilling.

Ribeiro's mad scene seemed too calculated and hesitant, as if she never really let herself go and never let her emotions overcome her. It was only in the final moments of the scene as she dashed blindly from the arms of her mother and slipped through Albrecht's arms crumpling to the floor that her expression of utter hopelessness and loss brought shivers down my spine. It was just too little, too late.

Her second act was quite beautiful, but again it lacked softness. It might have been opening night jitters, but Ribeiro seemed to concentrate on the steps too much and, while they were perfectly executed, she almost forgot to emote. However, Ribeiro has incredible potential. Her beautifully strong technique needs to be balanced by artistic maturity that will come with every new opportunity and performance.

Patrick Armand was a dashing, flirtatious and thoroughly sexy Count Albrecht. Whether gently tapping on Giselle's door or gazing down while she counted flower petals, his boyish smile would win any woman's heart as it certainly won Giselle's. Throughout the first act, Armand's acting matched both his artistry and technique. His jumps were light, his extensions high and his turns ending in perfect balances. His remorse and anguish at Giselle's death were incredibly real and almost tangible--his acting overshadowed everyone else onstage. He and Ribeiro have been consistently paired together for over a season now, and in this production Armand's maturity and experience definitely helped Ribeiro through both acts. In the second act, whether he was on his knees begging Myrtha to be able to stop dancing or sliding out of six pirouettes onto the floor in exhaustion, Armand's artistry was captivating.

The role of Hilarion performed by soloist Yuri Yanowsky was technically amazing, with his smooth long lines, streamlined jumps, high extensions and flawless turns. In one word--beautiful. However, his artistry is completely lacking and his acting seemed extremely strained and forced; it was just not enough for the role of Hilarion. Patrick Armand's acting completely overpowered Yanowsky's, and made for lopsided encounters and a lackluster revelation of Albrecht's true identity. Yanowsky has the technical capability. He just desperately needs to work on his acting and artistry.

Nadia Thompson was a perfectly spiteful and cruel-looking Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. Her cold gaze and severe gestures were fitting for the role. Although slightly stiff-looking at times, her jumps were strong and high and the sequence of bourresacross the stage at the beginning of the second act were executed very well. Her shriveling glance that sent Hilarion to his death, and condemned Albrecht to nearly the same fate, could not overcome the purity and gentleness of Giselle's love--the love that, in the end, overcame her own midnight curse.

Also of notice was the peasant pas de deux in the first act, performed by Jennifer Gelfand and Paul Thrussell. Gelfand's dancing is both technically superb and artistically refined. She has grown to be an extremely mature dancer with strong, perfect turns and a confidence in her technique that allows her to work on even the in between steps, linking every turn and jump to the next, so that her variation is one long, beautiful movement that never ends. Her partner Paul Thrussell seemed weak and definitely not at his best, as he is usually an amazing and very solid dancer.

While the corps de ballet of peasants in the first act looked slightly uncoordinated, the corps de ballet of wilis in the second act was excellently rehearsed--their lines and movements were perfectly coordinated, their legs and feet stretched and pointed and their heads and arms all bent at the same angle.

The costumes and scenery for Giselle were stunning. The first act had colorful sets of vineyards ready for harvest, and the reds and oranges of the trees reflecting the season. The richness of color of the costumes matched the scenery from the browns of the peasants to the deep reds of the visiting nobility in their hunting clothes. The real greyhound dogs were quite cute onstage, and definitely added to the overall scene.

The second act sets were equally beautiful, adding to the gloom and sorrow of the graveyard and representing both the betrayal of the past and the perpetual sadness of the present and future. The backdrop of dead and broken trees matched the single wooden cross marking Giselle's grave at the front of the stage. The simplicity of the sets complemented the pure white long tutus of the wilis and the bouquet of white lilies that Albrecht let fall one by one over Giselle's grave.

Boston Ballet's production was extremely beautiful overall, and should not be missed.

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