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The Paris Opera Ballet's "Giselle"

Last night I splurged on a ticket to see the Paris Opera Ballet’s “Giselle” at Lincoln Center.

The Paris Opera Ballet has a long history (this was their 770st performance of “Giselle”) and homogenous style. It’s tempting to say that they are chic––they are Parisians after all––but that would demean their integrity of training and depth of performance. This was a “Giselle” where everyone believed in the story––the wilis, the peasants, the royalty, everyone. 

One can deduce from the printed program that the Paris étoiles are promoted only when they are well into the maturity of their careers. Dorothée Gilbert (Giselle) joined the company as a corps de ballet dancer in 1988 and was named étoile in 2002. And this maturity pays off––the Parisians are very believable playing youngsters with a profundity rarely seen in dancers half their age. 

The Paris Opera Ballet School takes mime seriously which is continued in the company. Berthe and Giselle’s Mother (played by the same person, Amélie Lamoreux), usually throwaway roles, were especially vivid due to this care of mime and story. Myrtha (Laura Hecquet) and the wilis told a tale of vengeance (yes, Alistair Macauley, wilis can dance with staccato accents) without hamming it up and Giselle and Albrecht (Josua Hoffalt) were dedicated to their characters without exaggeration. And what a pleasure it was to see a premier danseur walk or run without self-consciously pointing his feet with every step (David Hallberg, I hope you’re reading this).

Ms. Gilbert’s Giselle was girlish in the first act and lovingly single-minded in the second. She danced with dimension and devotion, not only to her Albrecht but to the tradition of performance ingrained in the company and school’s training. And she was more than met by Mr. Hoffalt who partnered her beautifully without making a big show of it. Her mad scene included a progressively large balloté, balloté, grand jété sequence which culminated in a beautifully time fall, but a man sneezed behind me and spoiled the effect. 

It was wonderful to hear Adam’s score without John Lanchbery’s somewhat Disneyfied reorchestration which ABT uses. Koen Kessels conducted the New York City Opera Orchestra from the first notes with unusually theatrical dynamics. The music sometimes sounded thin and clunky but it always supported the dramatic action on stage enabling heightened emotional effects.

The Lincoln Center Festival audience was hugely distracting, applauding every moment of obvious virtuosity no matter how incidental (Alex Ibot  hit an accidental, extended  balance in the Peasant Pas de Deux eliciting thrilled applause but, for the record, his partner Héloise Bourdon had beautiful pliés on point which, being less showy, did not). The famous arabesques voyagés of the wilis won immediate applause out of proportion to the moment although, granted, they were done with real rhythmic hops rather than the dead scuffs that the ABT corps does––very impressive. Equally impressive were two quiet double tours tossed off by Mr. Hoffalt with his arms in fifth position en couronne and landing en couronne––enormously difficult but not superficially bravura enough to be recognized by the audience.

This was a spectacular performance made all the more special by its devotion to the tradition of live performance. Bravi, les Parisiens!

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