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Giselle, Adolphe Adam’s beautiful tale created for the ballet’s premiere in Paris back in 1841, has been re-imagined by the Ballet Master and Stager Lola de Avila, marking the opening of Joffrey Ballet’s 2017-2018 Season. Set in the Middle Ages on the day of the grape harvest festival, Act I takes us to the happy village and its villagers celebrating the harvest with dancing. The mood is cheerful and lighthearted, the music is fantastic (live orchestra under music director Scott Speck); colorful costumes and a gorgeous set (scenic and costume designs by Peter Farmer) prepare us for what’s about to unfold. Young and beautiful, child-like Giselle meets nobleman Duke Albrecht who comes to the village dressed as a peasant. Albrecht (very talented Temur Suluashvili) is actually engaged to marry Bathilde (Jeraldine Mendoza), the daughter of the Prince of Courland, but Giselle is unaware of any of that. The two flirt and dance together, and Giselle falls madly in love. Victoria Jaiani ,as Giselle, is divinely graceful; if she was any more weightless, she’d likely fly away. Rory Hohenstein, who portrays Hilarion, a young villager in love with Giselle, is wonderful; his acting is on par with his dancing- so expressive and precise, one can almost hear what he’s trying to convey. Both Hilarion and Giselle’s mother Berthe (Olivia Tang-Mifsud) try to worn Giselle of Albrecht’s deceitful nature, but she won’t listen.

If traditional classical ballet moves and dancers’ perfect form keeps Giselle true to the Romantic ballet era, what comes next sets it apart from most ballets of that time and their usual happy endings. When Giselle finally learns the truth about Albrecht, she becomes inconsolable, her love passion turns into heartache so severe her heart literally breaks; she collapses and dies. This day didn’t end so well after all.

Act II: no more fun and games, we’re at Giselle’s graveyard on the night of her burial. Lit up by very realistic-looking moon, the set is mysterious and lifeless. Motionless Hilarion is grieving Giselle’s death, when he’s suddenly frightened by Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. According to German poet Henrich Heine, the legend of Wilis came from Slav folklore: the spirits of young brides who died before their wedding could not rest in peace because of their unfulfilled desire for dancing on their wedding day. Vengeful Wilis rise from their graves at night and attempt to lure young men and dance them to death. It is believed that the phrase “gave me the Wilis” comes from this legend.

The stage is quickly traversed by a side-way moving female dancer in a very spooky manner. Then, dressed in white wedding gowns with flower garlands in their hair, the Wilis show up. Though their dance is breathtakingly slow, dreamy and completely void of any emotion, they appear to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. The ballerinas join together in a circle creating a wispy fluff with their puffy dresses. Surreal feeling, created by the light (lighting design by Michael Mazzola), the subdued colors of the costumes and the Wilis’ seductive dancing is enough to give anyone the wilis.

Hilarion is sentenced to death by dancing and is subsequently thrown into the nearby lake. Albrecht enters looking for Giselle’s grave, and Giselle’s spirit appears to him. He begs her for forgiveness; fortunately, her love for him is unchanged and she protects him from the Willis who insists on dancing him to exhaustion. As the day breaks, Albrecht’s life is spared, the Wilis return to their graves, and Giselle’s spirit, freed from vengeance, returns to her grave and can now rest in peace. Unbelievably beautiful (and just in time for Halloween)!

Joffrey Ballet’s Giselle is being performed at Auditorium Theatre through October 29th. For more information visit http://www.joffrey.org/giselle.

Published in Dance in Review

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