Dance Review: GISELLE (San Francisco Ballet)

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by Chuck Louden on February 26, 2023

in Dance,Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


Both classic ballet and romantic fantasy, Adolphe Adam’s 1841 masterwork is for a rightly renewed reason a worthy offering by the SF Ballet. Playing the gorgeous War Memorial Opera House through Nov. 5 only, this two-hour treasure, revisioned in 1999 by former artistic director Helgi Tomasson, 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 on opening night as the diaphanous waif than Sasha De Sola, an SF Ballet treasure and a Giselle to haunt the future as much as she honors the past. (There are four casts this year — see schedule.)

This ghost-filled romantic drama starts out as the tale of a beautiful peasant girl, Giselle, with a weak heart and a passion for dancing. She lives in her German village of Rhineland and falls for a handsome nobleman, Albrecht, Duke of Silesia (Aaron Robison) disguised as a peasant. The sweet but deceived village girl loses her mind and life when she abruptly discovers that her lover “Loys” is in effect 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 (Nathaniel Remez), 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.

Nikisha Fogo 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. The heavenly Wilis — brilliantly dancing en pointe in sync — are visually stunning (Ellen Rose Hummel and Julia Rowe were the Wilis soloists). In their white classically Romantic tutus, they also offer a unique sound like scurrying rabbits as they all dance across the stage.

Mikael Melbye‘s meticulously detailed set of the German village and his bright and colorful costumes of the peasants and villagers are exquisite. Conducted by Martin West, Adams’ delightfully danceable score enthralled. It’s such a lovely evening that I daresay it would be in your interest to observe more than one cast.

photos © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
ends on March 5, 2023
for tickets, call 415.865.2000 or visit SF Ballet

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