Two Styles for Giselle, January 29, February 1

9 Feb

Balletomanes must have heard about brother-sister Borzoi incident January 28 when the periodic breeding urge interrupted the hunting scene in Act I of San Francisco Ballet’s production of Giselle. It’s certainly gone the rounds of Facebook,Twitter with numerous reactions.

Wednesday night Matilde Froustey and Tiit Helimets repeated an initial Sunday matinee impression with Simone Messmer as Myrthe, Pascal Molat in the role of Hilarion. At the February 2 matinee Frances Chung danced Myrthe, Molat again Hilarion, with Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham as Giselle and Albrecht. Anita Paciotti was Berthe for both Giselles, her mime clear, her portrayal always apt.

The formations in both performances seemed exceptional. I noticed the use of opposition in the corps’ pas de basques as principals Froustey and Helimets danced Act I. Tomasson has provided vigorous lifting for the men with emphatic boot slapping, lending more emphasis on village activity than simply background for Giselle and her romantic betrayal. What’s difficult to believe, however, are hardy peasants when the corps clearly is young, slender and in tip-top condition, though a smattering of supernumeraries soften that distinction and two children scamper in the opening.

The Froustey-Helimets-Messmer casting evoked nineteenth century Romantic era, the ballerina’s fragility, the nobility, little disguised, of Albrecht. The argument of Hilarion in pressing his case, an absolutely minted portrait by Molat, is very French, quite possibly the most peasant of all and thoroughly satisfying. Froustey’s Giselle is fragility personified, a piece of Limoges or Haviland porcelain, finely formed, delicately decorative. She simply has no defense. Her Act II Giselle was exceptionally light, stylistically pure, those Romantic prints come to life, clearly stating its Parisian origins. Messmer’s Myrthe was also a clearly etched, classically-correct performance.

With Sarah Van Patten, Mark Ingham and Frances Chung as the principals on February 2, it was a trans-Atlantic shift, dramatic,valid, the physical proportions from two different continents, North America and Australia, more earthenware, perhaps the finest Deruta. It was easy to imagine Ingham in tennis togs with scarf in a convertible, but here a vigorous count, a drop-out from courtly protocol. Van Patten may well have been a young typhoid survivor, shorn early of her father; her survival makes Berthe doubly protective; her imagination stirred by the young stranger renting the hut across the village square, his coming and going a source of curiosity.

San Francisco Ballet sponsored a series of Giselle-related discussions. Though not attending these sessions, I remarked to my January 31 neighbors Messrs. Nees and Dodson that with first love shattered in a sheltered existence, the humiliation sustained in a closely knit community with the prospect of living around such witnesses, her heart’s dreams destroyed and perhaps ultimately marrying Hilarion, could well be overwhelming.

Van Patten’s mad scene was exceptional, her blue eyes staring vacantly, as if nothing had happened, but oh, yes it had, trying to piece the scenario together, jumbled up, in disorder. Ingham’s Albrecht was fully devastated by the discovery of his duplicity.

Mikael Melbye’s setting for Act II is impressive, its opening scrim of tree trunks with tangled, pointed branches with simulated ground fog behind and a flitting aerial wili setting the tone for Albrecht’s struggle with the Myrthe and her minions. First the scrim recedes, then gradually the tree-shaped flies recede to reveal Giselle’s grave site. It conveys a deepening not only of the stage but also the depth of the forest, along with the upper left entry point for Albrecht and the upper right watery destination for Hilarion.

Chung dances an apt Myrthe, and is particularly vigorous when dispatching the wands when summoning the wilis, whose precision was admirable. I hope, however, Tomasson gives her roles melding her ballon to her effervescence.

From earlier Giselle productions, I realized Hilarion’s downfall is less because of jealousy or exposing Albrecht’s disguise than the more profound malady of lacking love. It isn’t given to Hilarion to grow beyond his grief; it is possible for Albrecht. The tale conveys not only love transcending class barriers but also the soul’s strength to reconcile love’s transcendence in the experience of loss.

Two additional thoughts rise. One, Mark Ingham’s Albrecht in Act II came closest to the interpretations I saw of Rudolf Nureyev with Margot Fonteyn in San Francisco and Mikhail Lavrovsky with Evelyn Hart in Phoenix. Such an interpretation clearly establishes that Giselle is a projection of his mind and the wilis the destructive force of guilt and recrimination.

Finally, when Matilde Froustey received her bouquets, a rose was given not only to Albrecht [Tiit Helimets] but also to Hilarion [Pascal Molat], a testimony perhaps to a fellow graduate of the Paris Opera Ballet School. Van Patten’s rose was limited to Albrecht.

Both performances generated deserved, spontaneous, warm standing ovations.

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