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  1. After nearly two months of strikes, Paris Opera Ballet returned to the stage at last with Giselle on Saturday. And what an evening it was! Firstly, I should explain that although we had excellent seats seven rows from the front of the stalls, two extremely large (tall and wide) people came and sat in front of us restricting the view of my six foot partner, let alone short dumpy me. This meant that all I could see for the whole evening was the right and left sides of the stage but nothing in the middle! It wasn’t a fault of the rake, nor the large people who after all didn’t choose their exceptional size, but it did mean I missed a lot of the action. So bear that in mind when reading my review. Before the performance began there was a speech from the Union, which elicited a rowdy response from the spectators with some clapping support whilst others booed loudly. However after this the audience behaved itself very well . The ballet-starved attendees seemed to be mainly French, with a good number of well-dressed and well-behaved children in spite of the late hour. In fact I witnessed none of the poor behaviour we have recently discussed on another thread, and the audience showed their sophistication by applauding appropriately throughout but not (as annoys me at other venues) when the star dancers appear, before having even danced one step, and not after every little solo. (Having said that I plead guilty to what I am criticising in the case of Zakharova, and a couple of others, so I’m a hypocrite.) The dancing was superb. Honestly, I could not fault either the étoiles nor the corps who were very ‘together’ and homogeneous. Giselle (Léonore Baulac) was delightfully pretty and seemed full of joy at being back on stage. At first I found her interpretation a little too ‘cute and playful’ – I always feel terribly sad and serious throughout the whole of Giselle, whereas the first act in Paris had a feeling of light-hearted jollity. However once she came to the mad scene she was more convincing than any other dancer I’ve seen in the role. She seemed to age visibly as you watched (an effect of sudden grief I have noticed in real life) and her movements were so authentic that it was difficult to imagine this was the sweet young girl who had been dancing so merrily just minutes before. Kudos to Baulac for such a powerful transformation. I realised at that point that she had emphasised the innocent charm earlier in order that the contrast be as dramatic as possible. Germain Louvet danced Albrecht – the embodiment of stylish, entitled aristocracy, he entered with a great flourish and long run from the back of the spacious stage, his cloak flowing out dramatically behind him. He was a splendid dancer, and I especially appreciated his perfect entrechats (which I have noticed some other male dancers closer to home cheating on a little). Hilarion’s appearance was a bit of a shock to me. He was a stocky-looking man with an oversized, shiny bald head, and was almost comic in his portrayal. It was all too clear why Giselle would prefer Albrecht. However when I looked at the programme I found that the dancer (François Alu) is actually a good-looking chap with a full head of dark curly hair so obviously this portrayal was intended, but it did somewhat remove sympathy for the man who is the real victim of this tragic tale. Myrthe was danced with suitable menace by Hannah O’Neill – in spite of her name she looked Japanese to me, and was a rare exception to most of the dancers who were French-born and trained. The scenery and lighting were exceptional; for example, during the mime scene where Berthe warns Giselle about the Willis, it is as though the sun goes temporarily behind a cloud and an unnerving atmosphere washes over the stage, sending a shiver down one’s spine. Then, of course, there are the stupendous surroundings of Palais Garnier itself – the statuary, the all-pervading layers of gold leaf, the multiple painted ceilings, the chandeliers… although I have visited many times it never ceases to take my breath away. You could say that our Royal Opera House looks, in comparison, like a minimalist Scandinavian interior. I love both buildings in their different ways.
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