Chicago Dance Review: GISELLE (Joffrey Ballet)

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by Lawrence Bommer on October 19, 2017

in Dance,Theater-Chicago


Both classic ballet and romantic fantasy, Adolphe Adam’s 1841 masterwork is for a rightly renewed reason a worthy offering by Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet. Playing the gorgeous Auditorium Theatre through Oct. 29 only, this two-hour treasure, revisioned in 2012 by Lola de Ávila (formerly of the San Francisco Ballet School), leaps and soars. Like its dozens of performers, each seemingly at the peak of their powers, it pours out its passions without benefit of words. Happily, no one is more enthrallingly electrifying as the diaphanous waif than Victoria Jaiani, a Joffrey treasure and a Giselle to haunt the future as much as she honors the past.

Theophile Gautier’s story, inspired by Heinrich Heine’s poems about unrequited love, lauds the posthumous devotion of Giselle, a sweet but deceived village girl who loses her mind and life when she abruptly discovers that her lover “Loys” is in effect the Count Albrecht, affianced to the daughter of the Prince of Courland and, as such, way out of her league.

Because Giselle’s false love, the gamekeeper Hilarion, exposes Loys’ identity, in the second act his treachery is punished, both poetically and in fact. Where the first act is a potpourri of classical artistry (the peasant pas de deux), faux folk dances by the grape harvesters, and novelty numbers like the girls’ sweet sextet, the second act waxes unashamedly rhapsodic: The Wilis, ghost girls who never knew love (or, specifically, marriage) before they died, capture men and make them dance to their deaths. But Giselle courageously intercedes for the now deeply repentant Albrecht: Death gives her the true look of love that life never allowed. (Alas, minus are the two Russian wolfhounds that American Ballet Theater featured five years ago in their Auditorium Giselle.)

What’s remarkable about Jaiani’s neurasthenic Giselle is how much she haunts us even before she becomes a white phantom in a dark forest. Svelte and sweet, demure and delicate, she seems gauntly wasted even before swooning into eternity.

Of course, she’s even more spellbinding in the second act, when she attains true spirit-status, most remarkable in Jaiani’s expressive, almost skeletal, arms. Where her first-act dancing was almost casual perfection with its bracing ballon, elevation en pointe, arabesques, pirouettes and lovely leaps, in the second act’s pas de deux with her perfect partner Temur Suluashvili is almost zombie-like as the last lingerings of life leak away. At first Albrecht detects rather than discovers her: The way they mirror each other’s movement is as death-defying as dance can get, he irrepressibly mortal and she as lithe and light as the undead could hope to seem.

Rory Hohenstein’s athletic Hilarion makes a perfect cavalier for a faithless cad. His remorse over setting in motion the death he couldn’t have anticipated seems genuine, not just the gift of Marius Petipa’s choreography as staged by de Ávila. Effortlessly seductive, his movement comes right from the music and, given Adam’s gorgeous melodies, that’s motivation enough. Hilarion is driven by his own jealousy as much as Giselle is protected by her trust in Loys. Given the panic in his paces, Hohenstein can stoop to nothing that surprises us, including his suicidal return to Giselle’s grave.

Superb partnership crowns the peasant pas de deux by Cara Marie Gary and Hansol Jeong. Finally, April Daly makes a majestic Myrtha Queen of the Wilis, the young ladies whose sepulchral steps and automaton-like gestures in the forest glade suggest the most graceful wraiths to ever cross paths with mortals.

Originally designed for Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, Peter Farmer’s earth-toned, class-conscious and etherealized costumes and his bucolic backdrop for the first act and haunted, moonlit lake for the second provide the perfect romantic context for this unashamedly lyrical story ballet. As always, the Chicago Philharmonic, superbly conducted by Scott Speck, do full justice to Adam’s delightfully danceable score. Altogether, the Joffrey’s new Giselle fully justifies the reason why it’s surrounded by the Auditorium Theatre.

photos by Cheryl Mann

The Joffrey Ballet
Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University
50 E. Congress Parkway
ends on October 29, 2016
for tickets, call 312.386.8905 or visit Joffrey

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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