Archive for American Ballet Theatre

Day 39: The American Ballet Theatre’s “Giselle” is BTS

Posted in Dance with tags , , , , , on August 2, 2008 by Vince

If somebody challenged you, in a game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, to connect Tim Burton with 19th-century French composer Adolphe Adam, go see the American Ballet Theatre’s “Giselle” next time it’s playing at the Lincoln Center.

What started out as an innocuous pastoral love story where you half-expected Bambi and Maria from “The Sound of Music” to make an apparition morphs into a live-action version of Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride”, the romance-drenched pirouettes and side leaps infused with a macabre relish. “Giselle” does a good job in weeding out squeamish dilletantes from the true romantics; if you’re grossed out by the fact that the second act dances with – literally! – necrophilia, you’re an impostor. If you passed this crucial test (as did Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, making sweet pottery posthumously together in “Ghost”), you just might be able to appreciate a “Happily-Ever-Afterlife” ending. 

Don’t worry, though: the protagonists start out alive and breathing. In the first act, a feckless village maiden named Giselle (played wonderfully by Nina Ananiashvili who replaced Diana Vishneva who was injured) is in love with a man she knows only as Loys. In reality, the man is Albrecht (the Cuban Jose Manuel Carreño, whose footwork is about as distracting as the flexing of his butt muscles) a nobleman disguised as a peasant, who is betrothed to Bathilde, daughter of the Duke. One scene has Loys swearing to Giselle his eternal love and she takes the traditional test with a daisy – “he loves me not, he loves me not”. When it appears that the answer will be “not”, Loys surreptitously retrieves the flower and discards a petal, coming up with the answer “he loves me”. And – the fool! – she  believes him! This was the point in the ballet when I realized that Giselle could not conceivably be a New York City type, not even a Charlotte without the brain for pre-nuptial agreements. Anyway, when Giselle discovers publicly the true identity of her inamorato, she is crushed and goes mad. I have never seen the progressive deterioration of one’s mental bearings (and eventual death) choreographed so well, right down to the very last chaînés turn. Ananiashvili’s Giselle gives “graceful exit” a whole new meaning.

While the first act seemed tame and cutesy, the second act was a dizzying and dazzling spectacle. The production took on a more somber, ghoulish mien, its evocations of a massive tree with gnarl-like branches as good as any in Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow”. The scene is laid in a clearing in the forest near Giselle’s grave. The wilis – vampiric ghosts of betrothed girls who were betrayed by their lovers and died before their wedding day – are summoned by their queen, Myrta, to attend the ceremonies that will initiate Giselle into the sisterhood of the traveling ghost tutus. Their spirits are forever destined to roam the earth from midnight to dawn, vengefully trapping any male who enters their domain and forcing him to dance to his death. Albrecht arrives to leave flowers on Giselle’s grave. He too is trapped and commanded to dance until death. Giselle resolves to protect him and dances with him until the clock strikes four, at which hour the wilis lose their power.  The two pledge their love to each other and she descends back into her grave. Sadly, they will forever be separated; Giselle is now a wili – a wili doomed to look like a svelte, long-necked twentysomething forever, how sad – for the rest of eternity. I like it that way. Since “Giselle” started making audiences bewitched, balleted and bewildered in 1841, we’ve remained happy preys to her brand of witchcraft.

One question, though: I wonder what Adolphe Adam was thinking when he named these dead unrequited brides ‘wilis’. Must they still be plagued by penis envy well into their graves?!