‘Giselle:’ dancing into Boston’s heart

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October 4, 2019

For the first time in 10 years, the Boston Ballet has included the haunting and classical romantic ballet “Giselle” in its 56th season. “Giselle” ran for two weekends at the Citizens Bank Opera House, starting the season off on a strong note. Jennifer and I (Polina) were lucky enough to catch a performance on Saturday, Sept. 21. 

Polina is going to speak more about the plot itself, but I (Jennifer) felt that the ballet was beautiful, even without prior knowledge. Although I was not as aware of the nuances of the storyline as they were happening, I was still mesmerized by the sheer talent that the dancers possessed, the intricate set and the soothing music. Polina also gave me recaps on what had just happened after each act.

One of the most well-known full-length ballets in the classical repertoire, “Giselle” tells the story of a young peasant girl with a passion for dancing. Originally choreographed by Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa and adapted by Boston Ballet’s Ballet Master Larissa Ponomarenko, Giselle loves to dance, despite her weak heart, and attracts the attention of two men: Hilarion and Loys. In the first act, the audience sees Hilarion trying very hard to prove his love to Giselle, but it is Loys who wins her heart. Loys is actually Count Albrecht in disguise, however, a member of the royal party who is already engaged but not truly in love with his betrothed, Bathilde. 

Act one is a joyus collection of variations and group numbers as the village is celebrating an annual wine festival. Viktorina Kapitonova, a principal ballerina at the Boston Ballet, is the perfect image of young and innocent Giselle as she explores falling in love for the first time. From her effortless extensions to her sweet smile and weightless jumps, both her technique and her acting was on pointe (haha, get it?). Patrick Yocum as Count Albrecht, also a principal dancer at the company, drew in the audience with his acting skills and sky-high jetés. Paul Craig as Hilarion also impressed with his moves and jealous rage.

Some highlights of act one were Griffin the Irish Wolfhound and Ginny the Bluetick Coonhound’s guest appearance in the hunting scene; seeing actual dogs on the stage was Jennifer’s favorite part. Dancers were sneakily feeding the two adorable pups small treats as they made their circle across the stage and stood regally. Also, the famous Peasant Pas de Deux with dancers Ji Young Chae and Tigran Mkrtchyan was expertly done, with joy and grace in every step. 

The most enchanting scene of act one arrived when Hilarion exposes Albrecht’s fiancée to poor Giselle, whose heart cannot take the betrayal. Giselle’s final scene as she descends into insanity is heartbreaking and moving. Kapitonova played the role perfectly, mimicking past variations with a confused smile on her face and spinning a sword around herself before finally succumbing to the pain and collapsing in a heap at her mother’s feet in a shocking twist that shakes the entire village.

After intermission, the entire set of “Giselle” changes from quaint village town to a deep forest and burial grounds. The music, composed by Adolphe Adam, switches from bright melodies to darker, bittersweet pas de deux and variations that mirror the tragedies in the plot. New characters are also introduced in act two, including the Wilis and their queen, Myrtha. The Wilis are a collection of young women who, like Giselle, have died tragically due to a lover’s betrayal; in the hours between midnight and 4 a.m., whoever crosses their path must dance to his or her death. At the beginning of act two, Giselle prepares to join their ranks. 

The costumes in act two are simply breathtaking, with the Wilis wearing calf-length tulle skirts and white bodices with gray elements, while Giselle’s remains pure white, as she is not officially a member of their group. Myrtha, played by Dawn Atkins, wore a similar gown, but her tiara helped set her apart from the rest of the corps de ballet.

Atkins’ performance as the maliciously cool and justice-obsessed Myrtha is chilling as she orders the Wilis to force Hilarion, who was visiting Giselle’s grave, to dance until he is completely exhausted. As if that wasn’t enough, she commands the Wilis to drown him in a nearby lake. Myrtha’s power is aided by the perfectly synchronous moves of the Wilis as they make various formations across the stage.

A major turning point is when Albrecht visits Giselle’s grave, is caught by Myrtha and forced to dance to his death. Heroically, Giselle steps in to stall and save her lover’s life. The pair are stuck in an exhausting and technically difficult pas de deux until the clock strikes 4 a.m., when the Wilis are banished, Giselle’s spirit is freed and Albrecht is overcome by her forgiveness and love. 

The combination of live orchestral music, the tragic story of Giselle’s selfless love, in addition to the overall impeccable performance of the dancers culminated in a moving and heart-wrenching ballet that you will never forget. If you ever have the chance to see this show, you have to go! And if you’re like Polina, who is ballet-obsessed and a sucker for a good love story, bring tissues!

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