Seeing GISELLE is experiencing history―a peek at what romantic ballet was like in the mid-19th century. It presents the style and movement of the era, with the physicality and technicality of modern dance. Dancing GISELLE is dancing a history that started with a beautiful Italian ballerina, Carlotta Grisi, and a writer and critic, Théophile Gautier, who fell in love with her. Since then, the ballet has been beloved and nurtured by countless dancers both legendary and unknown.
Pennsylvania Ballet has been performing this ballet for over 55 years. The restaging by artistic director Angel Corella cherishes the tradition and history of GISELLE with precise details, while daring to manifest a true love.
The ballet is composed of two scenes: Act I takes place in the cheerful, sunlit autumn of a rural village in Rhineland. Count Albrecht, a young nobleman, is in love with Giselle, a shy village girl. He disguises himself as a villager and knocks on a door of a humble hut to lure Giselle out and flirt with her. However, Hilarion, a local gamekeeper, who is also in love with Giselle, finds out who Albrecht really is.
As the celebration of the grape harvest is danced by cheerful villagers, the gamekeeper reveals Albrecht’s true self to Giselle. Giselle goes mad and dies of heartbreak.
Act II brings us into a world of a haunted forest in the late night. There, the Wilis, the spirits of dead maidens who died of betrayals of their lovers, curse men to dance till they die. Hilarion mourns Giselle at her grave, but he is caught by the Wilis and is executed by the order of Myrtha, the Queen of Wilis. Albrecht also gets trapped by them, but Gisele, who is becoming one of the Wilis, dances along with him to protect him from the curse.
On opening night, both the soloists and the corps de ballet created a stunning performance with very convincing storytelling and impressive dance. Oksana Maslova (Giselle) was simply magnificent. She has always been an astonishing dancer with extraordinary physicality and artistry. However, this performance proved that she is also a genuine actress. Her Giselle in the first act was adorable and each of her precise and beautiful movements and steps depicted her emotions from love to despair.
Arian Molina Soca danced Albrecht as he is meant to be danced, as a handsome young nobleman who was blinded by love and did not see the truth until it was too late. There were missed opportunities here and there in Soca’s expressions that would make his portrayal more convincing. However, his technique as a ballet dancer truly shined in pas de deux in the second act. When he lifted up Oksana, he made it feel so effortless that it looked as if he was trying to keep Giselle in his arms so that she would not float away in the air.
Dayesi Torriente was elegant in her dance and chilling in expressions as Myrtha . She narrated a story of Myrta’s love: the love destroyed her life and humanity and left her with a pure vengeance. The Wilis danced Ballet Blanc (white ballet) with perfection. They were in unison from the angle of their eyelashes to their toes, graceful in white tutu but with no expression on their faces. The atmosphere they created was otherworldly and powerful.
GISELLE has been interpreted in so many ways and performed in a variety of versions. In this version, Giselle saves herself from becoming one of the Wilis by saving Albrecht instead of seeking revenge. After Giselle protected Albrecht, Oksana gestured toward Soca to leave her behind. She left one white flower to him as a memory of her and disappeared to her grave. As the curtain closed, Arian was standing in a daze. As if he finally realized how deep Giselle’s love was to him and what a true love was. It’s a wonderful experience.
[Academy of Music, 240 S Broad Street] March 7-17, 2019; paballet.org