Margaret Severin-Hansen and Gabor Kapin in Giselle
When I watched the movie Casablanca for the first time I found I already had some familiarity with many iconic lines and scenes. Giselle may be the Casablanca of ballets. The romantic era ballet contains many of the images that have come to represent ballet, giving it an iconic familiarity for first-timers.
Carolina Ballet’s production of Giselle is a grand event. It’s the story of Giselle, a young girl with a weak heart. And her weak heart can’t take it when she learns that her betrothed, Count Albrecht, is already engaged to a princess. After her death she becomes one of the ghostly Wilis (feminine beings who lure men to their deaths by dancing) in the forest of her grave. When the Count visits Giselle’s grave she protects him from the Wilis. Having spared his life with her love, she is released from the Wili existence to rest in peace, leaving the prince alone.
The ballet opens with a bright sun over a humble peasant village. Margaret Severin-Hansen was exquisite as naive and vulnerable Giselle. She was bursting with youthful energy when dancing and showed a true desire to keep dancing when she became fatigued. There were no signs of fatigue, though, in Giselle’s variation in Act I. It was a teasing sort of dance, with hanging movements and slow descents followed by a flurry of fast footwork. Severin-Hansen was impressive as she hopped on one toe across the stage with her other leg extended followed immediately by a series of fast turns around the stage. Once she learned the Count was being dishonest, the sweet and humble peasant in Severin-Hansen became weakened and crazed with a gut-wrenching performance of heartbreak that would make Sally Field proud. You could see beams from the setting sun through the trees as the villagers surrounded Giselle’s lifeless body.
Gabor Kapin as Count Albrecht was phenomenal, with acting skills equivalent to his powerful dancing. Twice this season he has mourned and taken the blame for the death of his loves, in two very different circumstances. (The other was in Carolina Jamboree, The Mystery of Beautiful Nell Cropsey.) His facial and physical expressions in both cases told the story of his heartbreak, regret and fear for the future.
The Peasant Pas de Deux in Act I, danced on opening night by Lindsay Purrington and Yevgeny Shlapko, was non-stop and breathtaking.
Act II takes place in the forest by Giselle’s grave. Lara O’Brien was a commanding Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. She and her two attendants, Alicia Fabry and Lindsay Purrington made an ominous trio. All three were captivating with their slow descents off pointe, creating anticipation as they pulled away from an arabesque with hesitation.
The fight for his life against the Wilis brought out the best in Pablo Javier Perez, who leapt and jumped weightlessly.
There is a large corps of dancers in both acts and on opening night they were remarkable as both peasants and Wilis. The power of uniformity and repetition were evident as the corps dancers hopped on one foot, holding their bodies motionless in horizontal positions, between each other across the stage. This is an iconic image that will never become cliché. The rows and rows of arms matched down to the intricate curl of the fingertips. The sea of white tulle reflecting light through the trees made the Wilis appear truly supernatural, and the controlled movement gave the impression they were floating.
The Wilis in Giselle
This is a ballet for ballet lovers. The sets and lighting effects are remarkable. You can enjoy this ballet as a meditation on beauty from the beginning to the end. Judging from audience response on opening night, Giselle serves as the perfect grande finale for Carolina Ballet‘s incredibly strong and diverse season.
Review and pictures by Denise Cerniglia
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