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Dance review

‘Giselle’ lovely as ever but maybe in need of updating

Thursday, July 18, 2013
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Dance review


Greta Hodgkinson performs the title role in National Ballet of Canada’s “Giselle” — dancing among the Wilis — at SPAC Wednesday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
Greta Hodgkinson performs the title role in National Ballet of Canada’s “Giselle” — dancing among the Wilis — at SPAC Wednesday.

— Romantic ballet is inhabited by sylphs, fairies and delicate young girls. But over the years, those old ballets from the 19th century have evaporated, flying away like the elusive nymphs they portrayed.

One of the greats endures — “Giselle,” which the National Ballet of Canada has lovingly preserved. The tale in which love transcends death was staged Wednesday at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in a way that honors ballet’s history. It will be performed again twice today.

Choreographed by Britain’s Peter Wright, the evening-length work doesn’t take liberties with the original choreography by Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa. Like most historic ballets, it relies on a lot of mime to tell its tale (confusing for some ballet watchers). It also simmers with a sleepy energy that can border on lethargy. Nonetheless, the ballet, with music by Adolphe Adam, is pretty.

National Ballet of Canada's 'Giselle'

WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs

WHEN: 2 and 8 p.m. today

HOW MUCH: $80 to $30 amphitheater; $24 to $15 lawn

MORE INFO: 584-9330, www.spac.org

Fatal attraction

It tells the tale of Giselle, a peasant girl who is deceived by the man she loves. When she discovered that her boyfriend, Albrecht, is actually a count and engaged to the Countess Bathilde, she descends into madness and thrusts Albrecht’s royal sword into her stomach.

She dies. Albrecht, regretful and in grief, visits her grave. There, a band of Wilis, deceased young women who were left at the altar by their faithless fiancés, attack him. They already killed Hilarion, the hunter who was also in love with Giselle. And now they set their attention on Albrecht.

Giselle rises from her grave and protects Albrecht until dawn, the time when the Wilis vanish for another day.

The National Ballet of Canada’s production, which dates to 1971, is elaborate. The misty forest decor, by Desmond Heeley, is especially atmospheric, setting the scene for both romance and betrayal.

On Wednesday night, the title role was danced by the willowy Greta Hodgkinson. Ideal for the part, she was frail and comely, and irresistible to Albrecht, played by Guillaume Cote. A tall handsome dancer, Cote looked like royalty. But his dancing (he looked tired) and acting skills paled to the powerful Piotr Stanczyk who seethed as the discarded Hilarion.

He was a highlight as the ballet unfolds slowly, sometimes at an excruciating pace. The music, finely played by the National Ballet of Canada’s orchestra, felt plodding at times. And while this is a beloved version of “Giselle,” as it is historic, it lacks the fiery dancing that modern ballet audiences have come to expect. Updating might be in order.

The corps de ballet, especially the waves of Wilis, did appeal to audiences. Deployed in swarms, and dressed in their yellowing wedding gowns, the Wilis moved in lines and circles, creating picturesque patterns. They also formed the dainty frame around the spirit Giselle and Albrecht as they made their final peace.

Three local dancers

The program included appearances by three young local dancers: Madeline “Maddy” Blaha of Saratoga Springs as the young daughter and Luca Spadinger of Loudonville and John Zorbas of Albany as pages.

 
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July 18, 2013
5:56 p.m.
schdyres says...

"Updating" has already been done by Peter Wright for this company. Further changes would most likely alter the look and feel of this timeless piece and prevent the audience from seeing the beauty of the original choreographical intent. One can appreciate the pace of this production and savor every moment for the classic that it is.

July 19, 2013
9:39 a.m.
schdyres says...

A little fact checking needed for the caption accompanying the photo: first act dancers wrongly identified as second act characters. The photo shows a happy Giselle with her friends in the village, not with the ghostly Wilis from the second act.

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