Libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint Georges, Théophile Gautier, and Jean Coralli
Choreography by Jules Perrot, Jean Coralli, and Marius Petipa
Ballet Master: Nikita Dolgushin
Stage and Costume Design: Vyacheslav Okunev
Lighting Designer: Mikhail Mekler
Sets and costumes produced at the Vozrozhdenie Theatrical Design Studios
Giselle, ou Les Wilis
fantasy ballet in two acts
music by Adolphe Adam
Premiere of the production: 3 November 2007
The stage life of Giselle hasn’t been an easy one. After its premiere of 1841 featuring Carlotta Grisi and Lucien Petipa, the ballet was performed in France till 1863, when it disappeared from the repertoire. The ballet has been staged in St.Petersburg since 1842. At the beginning of the 20th century during the ground-breaking Diaghilev’s Russian Seasons, the French saw their national ballet, faithfully nurtured in Russia.
The Mikhailovsky Theatre’s the 2008 production of Giselle by Nikita Dolgushin, a specialist in historical works, managed to amaze both the public and the critics. Dolgushin, a noble Albrecht in his time as a dancer, inspired the creation of the ballet and delicately united dance and mime. He revealed the essence of the romantic ballet, the story of Giselle is told in the language of ballet classicism. Together with Viacheslav Okunev, who designed the epitome of romantic settings, Dolgushin made a production that was described by a British critic ‘an exemplary Giselle’.
A young Count is in love with a peasant girl, Giselle. As he is disguised in peasant clothes Giselle takes him for a young man fr om a nearby village. A gamekeeper is also in love with Giselle. He tries to prove that Giselle’s lover is not the man he pretends to be. But Giselle will not listen.
The gamekeeper intrudes into the cottage wh ere the young Count changed his clothes and finds the Count’s sword. The sound of horns signifies that the hunters are coming. The Count’s betrothed and her father are among them. The noble lady is charmed by Giselle and gives the pretty peasant her necklace.
At the height of the peasants’ feast the gamekeeper appears. He accuses the Count of deceit and shows the Count’s sword as a proof. Giselle doesn’t believe it. The gamekeeper blows the horn and the Count’s betrothed greets the abashed Count. Giselle shocked by her lover’s deceit goes mad and dies.
Midnight. The gamekeeper comes to visit Giselle’s tomb. The Wilis are arising from their tombs and the young man runs to escape them. The Wilis force every man who comes to the cemetery at night to dance to his death.
The Queen of the Wilis summons the ghost of Giselle from her tomb: she’s one of the Wilis now. The Count comes to visit Giselle’s tomb. Seeing his sorrow and regret Giselle forgives him.
The Wilis are chasing the gamekeeper and having caught him push the young man into the lake. The Count is going to die too. In vain Giselle begs the Wilis to let him go: the Wilis are implacable. But the chime is heard: it’s daybreak. The Wilis are loosing their power as dawn breaks. The Count is forgiven and rescued. Giselle vanishes into the morning haze.
Gerald Dowler, Financial Times
Nikita Dolgushin’s staging of Giselle returns to London undiminished: wholly traditional, with lovingly painted sets “after” the original 1841 Paris designs, it presents the choreographic text and narrative unfussily, with accretions stripped away to reveal the work’s essence.
Costumes are plain, especially for the Act II Wilis; the only jarring note is the Act I hunting party, dressed more for a banquet than a saunter in the woods. What the production achieves magnificently, however, is a clear distinction between the sunny, mortal world of Act I and the sinister supernatural one in Act II, the bridge between the two worlds becoming Giselle herself.
This was a performance of the highest standards, not least from the corps of Wilis, the souls of jilted brides dancing as one with impeccable style; such cohesion and engagement are rare indeed. At its heart was guest principal Denis Matvienko’s Albrecht and the Mikhailovsky’s own Irina Perren. Matvienko’s mastery of the role’s technical demands is complete — the solos are carved with assured nobility — but it is both his strong, solicitous partnering of Giselle and his detailed portrayal of the penitent cad that make the greatest mark. His Albrecht initially repels us with his clear desire to possess Giselle — no lovelorn youth he — but his gradual realisation that his desires run deeper is carefully etched, his remorse at her graveside in Act II keenly felt. A notable portrayal.
Perren dances Giselle in a state of grace. Her Act I peasant girl is dangerously naïve, her happiness at Albrecht’s protestations or the receipt of Bertha’s necklace so great one fears her heart will burst — as it must with her wrenchingly portrayed madness induced by his treachery. The shadow of betrayal plunges her world into darkness and leads the way to her grave. It is the transformation from the endearingly simple soul of Act I to the sorrow-laden wraith of Act II that Perren achieves so totally. Her technique serves her artistry completely, with balances held not for show but in defiance of the gravity of the mortal world. An extraordinary achievement.
The Mikhailovsky Ballet is on its first United States tour and is now at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center through November 23. The Company features several of Russia's greatest dancers: Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, formerly of the Bolshoi Ballet, and Leonid Sarafanov, formerly of the Mariinsky. It will surely conquer New York City and Los Angeles, and soon the rest of the world.