On the heels of Compañía Nacional de Danza’s successful return to Teatro Real, the company held its world premiere of Artistic Director Joaquin De Luz’s “Giselle” at another of Madrid’s renowned performing arts venues, Teatro de la Zarzuela.
Bringing to life a new vision of an epitomized classical ballet is an ambitious task and in De Luz’s case it would be better classified as a reinvention. He put together a team of experts in musical direction, libretto writing, dramaturgy, scenography, lighting sound, video, and costume design; many of them with little experience in working with a ballet company. This decision was intentional though as De Luz “didn’t want to do a traditional ‘Giselle’. For that [he] could have rented a production.”
There is much significance to De Luz having decided to set his multimedia – cinematic and voiceover are key elements to his version – “Giselle” during the period of Spanish Romanticism. He is including the history of his country in the classical ballet canon and bringing to the forefront the rich cultural influence this short early 19th century movement had, all to a primarily Spanish audience. Inspired by the writings of one of the country’s most famous poets, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, this story takes place in a small village near Moncayo, Spain.
There are no artistic details left untouched as De Luz makes some alterations to assure that there are no incongruences in the presentation. Aside from the costumes obviously needing to appropriately reflect the time and location, we also see how Bathilde’s necklace gift to Giselle is replaced with a peineta, Albrecht’s sword replaced with a pistola, and the introduction of Giselle’s mantilla as a symbol of her love for Albrecht.
Musically, there are a few not-so-subtle modifications done in this arrangement which go hand-in-hand with choreographic decisions made. Surprisingly wonderful is the introduction of (off-stage) castanets during the peasant pas de deux. Although at first shocking to an accustomed ear, when we see that the couple is dancing a jota (an Aragonese folk dance) influenced duet, all falls into place. Haruhi Otani and Yanier Gómez are artistically charming and technically brilliant, and the applause they receive is proof of how approving and appreciative the audience is.
Near the end of the first act, although maintaining Giselle’s obvious leitmotif, a dramatic shift from major to minor chords and scales during her evolving madness make for an amazingly intense, macabre, and sad scene, one that brings this writer unashamedly to tears. The transitions to and from this musical adaptation, though, are a bit jarring; but I imagine it is because we are not used to it.
Giada Rossi‘s interpretation of this iconic ballet figure leave no doubts about her being cast for the world premiere. She plays a gentle Giselle, a clearly adoring daughter and loyal lover. Rossi’s upper body and arms are light yet not wilted, and despite not sustaining some of her balances as much as the musical notes encourage, she is equally strong in both acts. She executes the (in)famous series of entrechat quatres with an enviable ease and precision.
Her Albrecht – danced by Alessandro Riga – takes a little more convincing. He is a little shaky in his first act solo but makes up for it amongst the Wilis.
First having impressed me in Nacho Duato’s “White Darkness”, Isaac Montllor does not fail as Hilarion. His acting is so believable and genuine that I find myself wanting to scream from the second tier to Giselle, “Just listen to him! He loves you and is telling the truth!” But alas, the story must unfold on its own.
When De Luz mentioned in a press conference that he had modified about sixty percent of the choreography in Act II (he estimated twenty percent in Act I), I gasped. After seeing the result, I wanted to cry with joy.
This makes for my third live “Giselle” over the past 437 days and although Boston Ballet and American Ballet Theatre have wonderful productions, this is by far the best second act I have seen. And this is despite Kayoko Everhart‘s lackluster Myrtha (this is not entirely her doing although her arabesque promenades and penchés are unstable; the role is hardly given any choreography!)
Credit goes to the impeccable corps de ballet, their ballet master/mistress, and the renewed choreography. Yes, the Wilis have their recognized feet-throbbing motionless moments on the edges of stage right and left, but more often than not they are moving, transitioning seamlessly from one formation to the next, dancing with utmost synchronicity. Led by Ana María Calderón and Otani’s Moina and Zulma, respectively, the spirits preserve graceful etherealism while demonstrating resolution to have the intruding men dance to their deaths.
Compañía Nacional de Danza’s Giselle will run from December 9-22 at Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid, Spain.
Featured Photo of Giada Rossi and Compañía Nacional de Danza in Joaquín de Luz’s Giselle © Alba Muriel
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