29 January 2013, Capitol Theatre, Sydney
The Paris Opera Ballet’s production of Giselle is breathtaking, poetic and immensely moving. It is steeped in the two nineteenth century traditions from which it emerged: ballet-pantomime and romanticism. And it is danced by artists whose technical expertise is a benchmark for today.
The production is so clear in its story-telling. The dancers appear to live rather than act out their parts and the evening just sweeps along. Giselle, danced by Dorothée Gilbert, draws us into her peasant world and shares her inconsolable sorrow at being betrayed in Act I, and in Act II she almost seems to melt away at times so fragile and vaporous is her reading of her role as a Wili. Her mimed tears as she tells us how much she had loved Albrecht simply melt the heart.
But, while it is clear, the production is also subtle, beautifully so. Nothing screams out, everything is harmonious as the story moves to an inevitable conclusion.
As for the dancing, well there’s just nothing like the Paris Opera Ballet. The corps de ballet is so beautifully rehearsed and they danced to perfection in both acts; Mathieu Ganio as Albrecht performed the most exquisite series of entrechats in Act II; Marie-Agnès Gillot was a commanding Myrthe and the Act I Peasant pas de deux, danced by Mélanie Hurel and Emmanuel Thibault, was joyously captivating.
But although there were some (or many) outstanding moments of performance, the evening was about the entire company. What makes this company so outstanding is the way in which the dancers perform in the classical mode. Every movement is a complete one. The dancers are able to take a bend of the body, a circular movement, a lift of the arms, anything really, and one can see where the movements starts, how it moves along its trajectory and how it finishes and moves into the next movement. This kind of dancing, so smooth and fluid, so sweeping, having such clarity, is rare and it is such a huge pleasure to see.
The Sydney Lyric Orchestra, consisting of musicians drawn together from a variety of organisations and directed by concertmaster Adrian Keating, was conducted by Belgian, Koen Kessels. The music never intrudes but is always clearly and strongly present, moving the story along. Perfect. It also presents a new perspective on Adolphe Adam’s music, reinstating some of the passages that have long been removed from the score as a result of the ballet having been whittled away over the decades from its original ballet-pantomime intentions. And the cello solo in Act II was as moving as the dance it accompanied.
Much has been made of this production being the ‘most authentic’ production of Giselle, and I began this review by mentioning the two traditions from which the first Giselle emerged. It is true that the ballet-pantomime tradition has been given a focus to a certain extent with the mime scenes, such as Giselle’s mother Berthe, danced by Amélie Lamoureux, telling in an extended way the story of the Wilis and prophesying the death of Giselle; the insertion of the men playing dice in the forest as Act II begins; and so on. The romanticism is well and truly there in the qualities the Paris Opera Ballet brings to Act II—that feeling, explored through technical means as much as anything else, of the Wilis drifting in and out of a real world and a world beyond the real.
But I have seen both these traditions explored in several other productions of Giselle—that of Sylvie Guillem for the Finnish National Ballet, the Royal Ballet’s production where the Act I mime is extensive, and even parts of Peggy van Praagh’s production for the Australian Ballet. So for me it is not so much a ‘return to authenticity’ that marks this production as remarkable, as interesting as this is. It is the skill and beauty of the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet, who are transcendent artists, and the direction of the company that understands that the classical technique can accomplish so much when exploited to its limits and used as an expressive vocabulary.
As a side issue, I admired the program cover for Giselle, reproduced below.
It captures so much of the essence of Act II, the fragility of the world of the Wili and the overwhelming presence of the forces of nature and the night. And, best of all, it isn’t a fashion shot that has nothing to do with what happens in the ballet. The cover photo is by © Jacques Moatti.
Michelle Potter, 30 January 2013
Update (3 February 2013): I have it on reliable authority that the sublime cello solo was, on opening night, played by Peter Morrison.