On Friday, May 27th, I attended the final weekend for LA Ballet’s performance of Giselle at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The ballet Giselle is near and dear to my heart because it was the first ballet that I performed a leading part in, dancing the role of Myrtha. Also, this marks the third time I have seen Giselle performed professionally. The first was The Royal Ballet in London and the second was ABT at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Both were wonderful, although my nosebleed seats for the Royal Ballet definitely left much to be desired.
What one notices first about the LA Ballet as the lights go down, is that there is no orchestra. You hear murmurs around you whispering, “Is this a recording?” There is something magical about hearing the musicians tune and warm up before the show starts, it sets the tone that something big is about to happen. When LAB has more of a foundation, I very much hope that they put funding into an orchestra, at least for their full length ballets.
When the curtain rose, we found ourselves in the Rhineland of the Middle Ages during the grape harvest. The set consisted of two tudor style houses, one that housed Giselle and her mother, and the other was in possession of the Duke Albrecht, who disguised himself as a peasant in order to sow some wild oats before his marriage to a noblewoman. Giselle and the disguised Duke meet, and of course fall in love, much to the dismay of Hilarion—a gamekeeper who is also in love with Giselle. Giselle’s mother worries for her weak heart as Giselle and others dance for the noblewoman (Albrecht’s betrothed) and her father who have come upon the scene. Hilarion reveals the truth about Albrecht, sending Giselle into a mad fit that her heart cannot handle, and she dies in Albrecht’s arms at the end of the first act.
Like many two or four act ballets, the first half is dedicated more to story set up, and the second half is dedicated more to dancing. I usually can not wait until the second half for the juicy pas de deuxs and sad climaxes that my favorite ballets have in abundance. That being said, I very much enjoyed the entire first act. Allyssa Bross danced the title role to perfection. Bross is a first season dancer at LAB but a huge standout. She also danced the Sugarplum Fairy in 2010′s Nutcracker. What made it so enjoyable to watch, because of the route many first halves have to contain too much set up, was her complete embodiment of Giselle. Bross was so sweet, excited, and in love the way teenagers are. Shy and overreactive in very charming ways. The audience would laugh at her facial expressions because they were so endearing. Opposite Bross was Christopher Revels, also a first season standout. A Tommy Kirk doppelganger, Revels is strong and promising. He did take a fall during a group dance, and you could see him lose momentum on his face after that. There was nothing behind that smile but disappointment, understandably, until enough time has passed to shake it off. Hilarion, danced by Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, was not given much to do in the first act but look discouraged. Unfortunately, Wespi-Tschopp is less of an actor dancer, and his actions did not fill the space, which drew attention to it being a “play,” simply because he did not commit enough.
The high point for me in the first act was the Peasant pas de deux, danced by Allynne Noelle (also a first season dancer) and Kenta Shimizu (Guest Artist from K-Ballet and Miami City Ballet). Noelle had excellent side extensions and was in full control of her body. A series of pirouettes with a preparation from Noelle on one knee were especially impressive. Both Noelle and Shimizu had strong and impressive solos, and the audience was eager to erupt into applause after everything they did. The reason for the solos and pas de deux by the peasants is very much lacking. Giselle leads them forward to dance, and they do, and then we never see them again. But when the dancing is so impressive, who cares why they are doing it? If it were a modern ballet, it would be easier to criticize the choreographer’s plot intentions. But Giselle was first done in 1841, and although the choreography has changed a bit, most of what we see in modern versions is still from the stagings in 1884 and 1903. So even the newest version is over one hundred years old.
The second act takes us to the woods where Giselle has been buried. Giselle is summoned from her grave by the Wilis, the spirits of women who have died before their wedding day and roam the night seeking revenge upon any man they meet, by dancing him to death. Hilarion searches for Giselle but meets his end with the Wilis. Albrecht also searches and finds her, Giselle still loves him and forgives him, and unlike Hilarion who is found by the Wilis and thrown in a lake, Albrecht is protected from them by Giselle. When day breaks, Giselle’s soul is freed because she did not succumb to vengeance and hatred of the Wilis.
I have to hand it to LAB; I have never seen the Wilis portrayed in a more unearthly way. I used to watch a VHS of Natalia Makarova’s Giselle with the Kirov Ballet, and even then it did not come close. The Queen of the Wilis-Myrtha (danced by Kate Highstrete) begins the second act with three solos. She did have a little trouble with her ponches, but she made up for it. Her moves were robotic but yet still enchanting. Her looks to the audience were jerky and blank, not fluid and soft which we are so used to knowing as beautiful ballet. I could not take my eyes off her, she was other worldly which is fascinating to see danced. The Corps de Ballet of her Wilis had their own ethereal qualities. They kept their eyes down to the ground and looked very sad. It was haunting. When the Wilis kill Hilarion they come alive and we the audience finally see why Wespi-Tschopp was cast as the unrequited lover. His dancing in the second act is more visceral and exciting than anything else in the entire ballet. Bross and Revels dance the lovers pas de deux and feature some gorgeous lifts to Adolphe Adam’s score. When beautiful dancing meets beautiful music, I cannot think of anything more exquisite.
Giselle marked my sixth LAB production and it was by far the best that I have attended. The company has nailed down some very talented dancers. One can only hope that we get to keep them here in Los Angeles and not lose them to other cities with older and more well known ballet companies. I may be old fashioned but I very much look forward to more full length ballets in the upcoming seasons. The ballets under consideration are Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Onegin, Coppelia, and Romeo and Juliet. LAB is finished for the season, but will open their sixth season in the fall with the tradition of The Nutcracker.
- By Diedre Moore
Tags: ABT, Allynne Noelle, Allyssa Bross, Broad Stage, Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, Christopher Revels, Giselle, K-BAllet, Kate Highstrete, Kirov Ballet, Los Angeles Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Natalia Makarova, Nutcracker, Rhineland, The Royal Ballet, Tommy Kirk
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