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Not Just Another "Giselle" - City Ballet of San Diego, Mar. 10, 2013

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The old Spreckels Theatre in San Diego is an intimate jewel box of a theatre and the perfect setting for "Giselle" - a ballet which has a special place in dance history since it was first performed in 1841.  This iconic Romantic Era ballet continues to be in the repertoire of every major ballet company and has graced the greatest stages of the world.  City Ballet's performance on March 10, 2013, has every right to take its place as part of that illustrious history. 

It is the Company's 20th anniversary year and there is no truer way to see how far it has come under the intelligent and artistically sound direction of its founders:  Steven and Elizabeth Wistrich.  Slowly, carefully, step by step the Company has been built from within; imported mega-star guest dancers are not part of its recipe.  Instead the growth and depth has come from years of hard work and difficult decisions. The result of all this has produced a growing treasure. 

This production is a very traditional "Giselle." The care taken with the classical mime throughout is a pleasure to see with the various inhabitants of the village participating both as dancers and as characters. One should discern a difference between Albrecht's mime as a nobleman and that of the village swain, Hilarion.  Gerardo Gil, as Albrecht, was especially fine giving his mime the noble edge which it rightly should have. 

Erica Alvarado and Ryosuke Ogura sparkled in the Peasant Pas de Deux. They are well matched; both have clean, clear, quick petite allegro and batterie (beaten steps) - making it all look ever so easy.  Over time the partnership hopefully will grow in confidence from this auspicious beginning.

As Giselle realizes she has been betrayed and begins her trip into madness, everyone else on stage froze in a tableau that brought what was about to occur into full focus. The lighting, too, was part of the action - and it all became one piece taking the audience right into the heart of the tragedy. Gil showed Albrecht's growing understanding of what his actions have wrought and how his betrayal now has tragic unintended consequences.  Gil's acting of this characterization filled out the picture and was the counterpoise to Giselle's heartbroken madness.

Geoff Gonzalez danced Hilarion with understanding for the character's difficulty in competing with a
nobleman for the same pretty girl. Though he couldn't quite get up the courage to knock on Giselle's door, he fearlessly confronted Albrecht when he realizes that Giselle is being betrayed.  In Act II, his simple grief is compelling as he constructs a cross for her grave.  Thus he claims our sympathy when he meets his demise at the hands of the heartless wili avengers.

Megan Jacobs danced Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis, with icy grace, leaving no one in doubt as to who ruled the night forest.  The corps de ballet - the heart throb of any ballet company - was simply superb.  I did wonder, however, if the company's artistic standard, when the arms are en haut, was that the space between the hands should be the width of the head or the width of the eyes.  An occasional thumb, too, needs to be tucked closer to the arc of the hand.  But it is a testament to the corps that these questions are so petty. 

And what of Ariana Samuelsson as Giselle?  The ballerina's performance in this role - one of the most difficult in the entire dance repertoire - would have been a credit to any stage anywhere. I have attended performances of this ballet since the 1960's and have seen on the live stage many of the great prima ballerinas of the 20th century, including Alicia Alonso, Margot Fonteyn and Carla Fracci.  It has been a long time since this ballet brought me to tears. 

At times it is as instructive to listen to the audience as it is to listen to the music.  Samuelsson's melting legato movement into the very nth of the musical count simply engulfed the theatre.  Then - a pause, an arrested movement - lingering for just a moment - made it all come to life to the very last seat in the very last row.  Gil's fine partnering was an important component to this success.

When Samuelsson portrayed Giselle's descent into madness, when she rose from her grave in the forest, when she danced to save Albrecht, when she gave him her final goodbye, there was not a
sound from the hundreds of living, breathing human hearts watching this old ballet and this wonderful ballerina.  She brought the drama from 1841 to today.



































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