Evil ghost ballerinas surround Giselle’s two suitors and force the men to dance until they die. The scenes with the ghosts in Act II is a big reason this ballet is still being performed 173 years after its premier. The ghosts of the young maidens who were betrayed in love and died before their wedding day take the stage wearing bridal veils. The ghosts, called Wilis in the German folklore, haunted the Capitol Theater with eerie beauty that took my breath away.
Photo by Kelli Bramble
The queen of the Wilis, played by the prima ballerina, Christiana Bennett on opening night, was fierce and evil as she exacted revenge. She perfectly portrayed her character, the first woman ever who was jilted and betrayed, and has spent thousands of years taking revenge. Christiana Bennett danced masterfully and brought serious gravitas to the stage.
All the ground fog, the ominous set dressing, and the sinister music worked so perfectly with the exceptional dancing and choreography. The dancers floated across the stage with the mist swirling around them and I loved it.
Act II, The Forest, begins when Giselle’s suitor from her village, Hilarion played by Rex Tilton, arrives at her grave. Hilarion is quickly surrounded by the Wilis and they make him dance until he dies. Rex Tilton had what I believe is his best performance ever. I wished the choreography would have showed his actual death, but this ballet dates from 1841 when it debuted in Paris to rave reviews. Giselle is still incredibly relevant and has been adapted for a modern audience, though it feels like a classic from another age.
Act I, Harvest Time (in a village in the German Rhineland) starts out a bit slow, with Giselle’s suitor in her village, Hilarion vying for her heart. Giselle, played beautifully by Arolyn Williams, has fallen in love with a handsome stranger, Prince Albrecht played by principal artist Christopher Ruud, who has been visiting Giselle for the past two weeks in disguise as a commoner.
She has fallen deeply in love with him all the while not knowing he is a Prince. Arolyn Williams did such an amazing job portraying the character. Her dancing, especially her solo work blew me away. In one sequence in Act I she stands on her toes—on one foot!—and crosses the entire stage. I’ve never seen anything like it.
You’ll have to watch the ballet to learn how Giselle dies at the end of Act I, but it’s shocking and dramatic. The build-up to the climactic end of Act I is quite long, and I did find the waltz sections when the villagers were celebrating the harvest somewhat tedious, but the dancing during those scenes was excellent. Over fifty dancers were part of this production, and Ballet West has to give everyone in the company some time on stage to showcase their skills, which they did wonderfully. All of the scenes with the villagers in Act I were beautiful, but my favorite parts involved Beckanne Sisk and Sayaka Ohtaki, who danced solos and showed their brilliance.
The love triangle aspect with spurned and angry Hilarion fighting with Prince Albrecht in Act I over Giselle was extremely interesting, but it was all about the second act for me. Seeing the Wilis, especially their queen and her two hench-women (Emily Adams and Alison DeBona on opening night) was the highlight.
The final scenes with the ghost of Giselle and Prince Albrecht were awesome. I used my opera glasses to see Arolyn’s expression at the very end when she disappeared inside her grave. She perfectly captured the tragedy and redemption of Giselle, a classic ballet, now made into a modern masterpiece by Ballet West.
My wife and I are strongly considering going again to see rising star, Beckanne Sisk take on the lead role of Giselle with Chirstopher Ruud again playing Albrecht. We both love Christopher’s dancing, and he’s a master of his craft. We want to see him and Beckanne dance together.
Giselle runs from November 7-16, 2014 at Capitol Theater. To read a summary of the entire ballet or learn more, please visit Ballet West’s website.