Boston Ballet redeems Giselle
BETRAYAL: Larissa Ponomarenko and Roman Rykine in act one.
At 166 years old and sporting miles of white tulle, Giselle can look pretty moldy. With its frolicking-villager first act and ballet blanc second, it’s been the favorite of balletomanes ever since there were balletomanes. That might seem reason enough for everyone else to get the willies. But what’s kept Giselle going for 166 years is its timeless story of a man who loves — or at least wants — two women. At the Wang Theatre, as staged by Maina Gielgud, it’s being danced and acted with exemplary clarity by Boston Ballet, with some outstanding performances and a first-rate traversal of the score by the Boston Ballet Orchestra. The only thing missing on opening night was some audience fisticuffs over the casting, or one of the on-stage Russian wolfhounds taking a nip at a corps member. As hip as Boston Ballet is, it’s still not the Pops.
The setting is a picturesque Rhineland village during the fall grape harvest, and Albrecht and Giselle are in love. Giselle, however, has another suitor, the hunter Hilarion, who seems to think he has a claim on her. Is there a back story here? Was Giselle messing around with him before she met the more prepossessing Albrecht? And what’s Albrecht doing with a cloak and sword (which he stashes away before knocking on Giselle’s door)? Swords are for the nobility, not for village peasant lads. And why does Albrecht disappear when a hunting party including the Duke of Courland and his daughter Bathilde arrives? He misses the charming scene in which Giselle tells Bathilde she’s engaged. Bathilde is betrothed as well, though her fiancé, like Giselle’s, seems to be elsewhere.
No points for guessing that Giselle and Bathilde have the same sweetheart. The mystery is how Prince Albrecht — yes, our hero is nobility — expected to get away with it. Another ballet royal in the same predicament, Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake, solved his problem by refusing to marry any of the visiting princesses and standing by his swan sweetie. (And it would have worked if he hadn’t cheated on Odette with Odile.) But Albrecht can’t look either of his two women in the eye. Was Giselle meant to star in the ballet version of Seduced and Abandoned? Or does Albrecht really love her and just lose his nerve when Bathilde confronts him? Whatever, Hilarion finds the sword and presents it, Bathilde turns her back on Albrecht, and Giselle, who I forgot to mention has a dicky heart and shouldn’t really even be dancing, goes into cardiac arrest. Or does she actually stab herself with Albrecht’s sword, like Juliet sheathing Romeo’s “happy dagger”? (No points either for doping out the symbolism here.) Either way, she’s dead. Albrecht and Hilarion blame each other. The curtain falls.
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