Watching Giselle in Paris and Swan Lake in London

July 22, 2016 14:54
Breathtaking performances: Mathieu Ganio in Giselle (left) and Alina Cojocaru (right) in Swan Lake. Photos: Svetlana Loboff/ONP, Laurent Lotardo

The 19th century classics are still the bedrock of ballet companies worldwide.

At least they guarantee full houses most of the time, especially with the presence of international ballet stars in the lead roles.

In June, I saw “Giselle” performed by the Paris Opera Ballet, as well as “Swan Lake” performed by the English National Ballet.

Paris Opera Ballet is the oldest ballet company in the world.

“Giselle” was actually premiered in the Paris Opera in 1841, though later revised by Petipa in Russia.

One characteristic of this great ballet company is that most of the dancers are still French, unlike the English National Ballet where most of the stars aren’t British.

The company’s style is most uniform, as most of the dancers are trained by its own school.

The 1991 production of “Giselle” by Patrice Bart has sumptuous sets and costumes.

The performance that I saw at Palais Garnier was led by Dorothee Gilbert in the title role.

Her acting was fine in Act 1. In Act 2, performing the role of the Wili, she was most pure spiritually, and her technical virtuosity was brilliant.

She was partnered by Mathieu Ganio, who is one of the world's greatest male ballet stars nowadays. His dancing was noble and a model of perfection. His acting was heartfelt, and the tragic ending was most movingly conveyed by him.

Valentine Colasante impressed as the Queen of the Wilis. The Paris Corps de Ballet was outstanding.

Four-dimensional show

Nearly every spring, the English National Ballet has a two-week season at the Royal Albert Hall in London. This year they performed “Swan Lake” produced by Derek Deane, its former artistic director.

Incidentally, this production was performed here in Hong Kong in 1999 at the Convention Center, and it attracted quite a lot of attention then.

This is an in-the-rounds production for an arena or stadium instead of for a traditional proscenium-arch theater. This unusual production suits the company perfectly.

As members of the audience are seated on all four sides of the arena, surrounding the stage at the center, Deane’s solution was simply to multiply the effects four times.

For instance, the Act 1 trio becomes a dance for 12, and the ensemble of swans is increased to over 60. As such, nobody in the audience, wherever they are seated, will miss out on the dancing.

The choreographic text is fine and adheres to the traditional Royal Ballet version, except for the happy ending. The main problem, however, is that some subtle stage effects are lost on such a vast stage.

I saw the opening night cast. The Swan Queen was finely danced by Alina Cojocaru, a former star of the Royal Ballet.

She was eloquent as White Swan. She sparkled more as the Black Swan with her technical bravura which was simply electrifying.

Her prince was a new Cuban recruit Osiel Gouneo. He lacked nobility as the prince, and his acting was muted.

Among the supporting performers, Fernando Bufala stood out in the Neapolitan dance.

[Chinese version 中文版]

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veteran dance critic