Ballet on the Sofa: Giselle

Giselle 2

Because, why not? The version I watched was a 2011 performance by the Opera National de Bordeaux, and it seems from the comments that it wasn’t very good. I guess the advantage of being someone who has watched precisely two other professional ballets in my life (‘Swan Lake’ while I was at university, and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ about this time last year) is that my complete lack of experience and preconceptions leaves me free to be delighted, which I was.

The plot of Giselle is very simple, which helps when you’re a very low visual person who normally relies on words to make sense of the world. Act 1: Girl meets boy. Girls falls in love, but her heart is broken when she meets her beloved’s fiancé. Girl promptly dies. Act 2: Vengeful spirits attempt to exact revenge against the boy, but are foiled by the spirit of the girl, who saves him through the Power of Love.

Giselle Carlotta Grisi 1819 to 1899
Carlotta Grisi, 1819-1899. The original Giselle.

If you think it sounds like a typical Romantic work, you’re right: it was first performed in Paris in 1841 and the librettists, Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges (1799-1875) and Theophile Gautier (1811-1872), based it on a description of spirits called the Wilis in a work by Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) and a story about a girl who dies of a chill after a ball by Victor Hugo (1802-1885). The score was composed by Adolphe Adam (1803-1856), and the original choreography (which has remained influential in subsequent performances) was by Jean Coralli (1779-1854) and Jules Perrot (1810-1892). At the premiere the role of Giselle was danced by Carlotta Grisi (1819-1899).

The Bordeaux version was choreographed by a man named Charles Jude, who speaks at the start about his desire to help the dancers discover the characters and make them their own. Giselle was danced by Oxana Kucheruk, and Albrecht (her beloved) by Igor Yebra, and the orchestra was conducted by Ermanno Florio.

As I said, the comments indicated that the dancers weren’t very good, but I loved it. I’m always amazed by the grace and power of ballet dancers, and the costumes in this production (flowing, floaty skirts for the women and leotards for the men) did an excellent job of emphasising this, even if they also did rather too good a job of emphasising details of the male form which are not flattered by lycra. One advantage of watching a filmed version rather than a live performance was that I could see the expression on the dancers’ faces as they performed, and there were also some lovely close-up shots of the intricate movements of their feet.

Giselle 1Have you seen Giselle? What did you think of it?


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