Alexandra Ballet’s, ‘Giselle’- Review

On February 22, I went to see Alexandra Ballet’s production of ‘Giselle’ at the Touhill Performing Arts Center. The evening was also a Sapphire Celebration of Ms. A’s 65 years of teaching. Alumni, including myself, from the past 65 years were there to pay tribute to Ms. A and see the next generation learning the steps and lessons many of us learned. This production of ‘Giselle’ was an excellent example of everything Ms. A is best known for; total stage commitment even from the youngest of students, detailed port de bras, and the rigorous discipline that sets students up for a lifelong dedication to classical ballet.

Posters/Program Covers from past productions of 'Giselle'

Posters/Program Covers from past productions of ‘Giselle’

Many Ms. A Alumni

Many Ms. A Alumni

That's me in the orange tutu- sandwiched between Ailey star- Antonio Douthit, Georgi Reed as the current Giselle, and St. Louis Ballet starlet, Makenzie Howe. Not bad company, is it?

That’s me in the orange tutu- sandwiched between AileyPrincipal Dancer- Antonio Douthit, Georgia Reed as the current Giselle, and St. Louis Ballet starlet, Makenzie Howe. Not bad company, is it?

The ballet opens with the curtain down, the space filled with Adolph Adam‘s score, delicate and romantic and also filled with tension. The curtain reveals a beautiful sunny village set with scenery by George Verdak and lighting from Tim Hubbard.  Act 1 has admittedly, a lot of pantomime serving as storytelling.  However, everyone from the youngest villager to the guest stars had a dancers posture- shoulders back, faces bright-and moved with purpose. There was an expressiveness of warmth, or worry in each gesture of the arms, and movement seemed to serve as a natural, conversational- yet balletic- style of communication.

Dancy and Reed- Hularion and Giselle

Dancy and Reed- Hularion and Giselle

Georgia Reed, as Giselle, was exuberant, light, bright, and  joyful. She was sensitive to every nuance of the music and each character. Guest artist, Thom Dancy  as Hilarion, lent a strong masculine presence, somehow perfecting Hularion’s tricky role as pitiable in his unrequited love, and also the busybody that pulls the wool from Giselle’s eyes.  Guest artist, Brian Grant was charming, youthful, and persuasive- the sway he held over Giselle was apparent in their stage chemistry together and with excellent partnering. Both Reed and Grant provided very nice variations.The real meat of the showmanship is in peasant pas de deux, danced by Megan Rigabar and Elisha Malinski. The pair started strong with fantastic cabrioles in the opening. Partnering was at times a bit shaky but never affected their faces or energy level. Rigarbar showcased fabulous turns during her variation and a mature sense of finesse particularly landing each turn.These two looked their best in petite allegro such as the emboite, and saute basque which were clean and energetic.

Act 1 was a very good representation of the students; the  villagers were very together and displayed nice attention to detail with pointed feet and soft epaulement in every balance.The villager scene with tambourines was very enjoyable and made great use of the stage space. A beautiful staging moment came when the friends dance in along the diagonal in their bright blues amongst a seas of earth-toned costumes, showing not only wonderful staging, nice dancing, but the incredible costuming from Jude Bonnot, Dace Dindonis, Jean Grewe, Kay Johnson, Nickie Junker, and Nina Reed. In this very fast section, the timing seemed to escape a few dancers as the friends weren’t entirely together.  However,  beautiful dramatic performances from all helped to form tension with Hularion’s reveal and Giselle’s madness, broken heart, and resulting death. The curtain falls on the color and safety of the village populated with friends and Giselle’s over-protective mother* leaving a feeling of despair, anger, and regret.

Beautiful Performance photos by Tom Sorensen

Beautiful Performance photos by Tom Sorensen

 Act 2 opens with pools of mist hovering like clouds in a very dramatic and gorgeous setting of leaf-barren trees and tombstones in a dark cemetery. Queen of the Willis, Myrtha, danced by Alexandra Goen, established the tone of the Willis with a stoic, almost-statuesque presence. Her allegro was powerful, particularly in very nice grand jete. The opening with the full corps de ballet is a beautiful set up of feminine power, the cambre back section showed softness and reverence, a communal spirit, and a fragility with lithe spines that bend and sway .Most impressive was lightness of the arms. The ability to have the strength to carry the arms and body in such a way while portraying the weight of a wisp of mist is very commendable to artists at any age, especially young students. Giselle suddenly emerges from her tombstone and is a very different Giselle than the joyful, exuberant girl of Act 1.The head bowed, she is more somber and this was well portrayed by Reed. Her jumps were still impeccable, light, and strong, yet she somehow seemed softer, as if she weren’t jumping off solid ground but rather levitating.
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In comes Hilarion, and it’s hard not to have sympathy for him- the poor guy in love with Giselle as anyone would be-  as he is caught in the storm of powerful, vengeful Willis. Dancy was wonderfully expressive, and showed strong technique even in moments of being tormented and eventually destroyed by the Willis.
  Albrecht is really not likable in that moment. You’re probably rooting for the Willis until Giselle steps in and protects him. Reed showed sensitivity through the technical challenges, was strong enough to appear soft as if facing down a power-struggle as she was forced to dance, particularly in the developpe and promenades in the opening of the pas de deux. She managed to show tension and softness at once. Grant provided great strength in the lifts, so much so that it didn’t look like a lift, more as if he was just trying to stop her from floating away. There was breath but also suspended light, lending a humanity and also an angelic quality. Reed never missed a moment of showmanship, each arabesque held for that extra second before the would exit into the wings. She masterfully matched technique and musicality to express the true role reversal of victim to heroine.  As she bourees away into the wings, all is left the feelings of sadness and yet a sense of empowerment in choosing empathy over anger, and how beautiful that is in life and in ballet.
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* Note- Yes, my Mom, Anne-Marie Ruhlin, performed beautifully as Giselle’s mother, Berthe. The mother of a dance-loving, mother’s-advice ignoring, health-plagued, overly dramatic daughter? She was BORN for this role!
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Ms. A alums will know what this is- the charm bracelets with charms for each ballet performed

Ms. A alums will know what this is- the charm bracelets with charms for each ballet performed

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