Marianela Nuñez Carries Royal Ballet’s Giselle Simulcast Film
(or: ‘No Wings on Wilis!’)
This is not a review-just some quick random observations, while adhering to ‘Odette’s Golden Rule’ (“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it here”).
About that rule…note that it only applies to Dancers (if you’re new to my site, ‘Dancers’ is purposely spelled with a capital ‘D’), which frees me to discuss the rest of the production.
In the Royal’s Giselle simulcast film, there was some lovely backstage footage before the performance. Disappointingly, however, it did not have interviews at all…nor backstage footage during its twenty minute intermission. After seeing other films/simulcasts in the Emerging Pictures’ Ballet in Cinema series (as well as their highly acclaimed ‘Opera’ series), I’ve been spoiled watching the likes of Natalia Osipova stretching…or being treated to a backstage tour at the Met…or watching Renée Fleming interview Natalie Dessay (Opera series). I’ve grown so accustomed to it that I now expect it!
(*Note to Great Performances and San Francisco Ballet in regards to the upcoming DVD and PBS airing of SFB’s production of John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid: I hope someone thought of that, though I realize TLM isn’t technically a ‘simulcast’. It’d be a nice touch, though. And yes I’m aware it wasn’t done for SFB’s Othello or Nutcracker. So could you please interview Mr. Neumeier, Yuan Yuan Tan, Tiit Helimets, Sarah Van Patten, Lloyd Riggins, and Davit Karapetyan and then add the footage to the DVD? Or it could be a special bit available only to those who purchase the DVD. Okay…thanks. Appreciate it.*)
So. About the actual Ballet.
I must admit that Marianela Nuñez’ Act 1 ‘Mad Scene’ was quite unlike any other of the dozens I have seen (which says something in itself). Her wild laughter at discovering Albrecht’s betrayal was spine-chillingly real-horrifying and grotesque in its truth. That scene, accompanied by the bouyancy of her Act 1 solos and light-as-a-feather side-by-side footwork with her Albrecht, Rupert Pennefather, brought home the potential depth of her artistry. This Giselle would carry the entirety of the Ballet for me:
If her upper body was fluid and calm, her feet were like quicksilver. As many of you know, this juxtaposition is one of the most enthralling things about Act 2. But it wasn’t just the beautiful execution of this ‘Wili’ effect that gave me goosebumps; it was the suppleness of those feet. There is nothing more pleasurable than watching a dancer roll through perfectly turned out demi-pointe up to full pointe. Note this at approximately 2:40 in the clip below (not to mention every other thrilling quality of movement…I could go on…):
Her exquisite turn-out never suffered in arabesque, nor the deep penché and ‘ironing board’ position. There wasn’t any shifting of the ribcage to accommodate an inappropriately higher developpé à la seconde.
I meant to keep this brief so, moving on, let me just say that there were many flaws in the production itself. Bertha’s overextended mime sequence seemed borderline ridiculous to me, there wasn’t a ‘connection’ between some of the Dancers that should have had connection, and some of the facial expressions were either too ‘over the top’ (and suffered from too heavy a makeup application for camera) or too ‘flat’, maybe in an effort to not commit the former sin. This is not necessarily the fault of the Dancers-I’m not mentioning names-and it could be that more attention needs to be paid to ‘expression coaching’ specifically for ‘on camera’ dancing. (*Listen up, all Hi-Def producers and Performing Arts organizations: it matters! These Artists deserve to look their best.*)
I greatly enjoyed Gary Avis’ honest and believable characterization of Hilarion, the effervescent Yuhui Choe, as did so many others, in the celebrated ‘Peasant Pas’ (a pas de six, rather than a pas de deux or pas de trois like in Helgi Tomasson’s production)…and that same Yuhui Choe as Act 2’s Moyna, one of Myrtha’s two lieutenants, who delighted me to the point of complete distraction, her arms and limbs were so completely supple and suited to her role.
One thing I disliked tremendously was the addition of the sylph-like wings added to the back of the waistline of the Wilis. Now before you admonish me for my taste, let me explain that this is an age long argument amongst balletomanes-did the original Wilis have wings or not? Ballet historians are quick to point out that illustrations of costume designs for marketing purposes in that time were actually engravings, a tedious process that sometimes ended up being re-used multiple times for similar costumes. In this case historians have argued that the similarity of the romantic tutu for ‘La Sylphide’ resulted in its engraving being reused for ‘Giselle’, rather than creating a labor intensive new engraving. The La Sylphide engraving had wings…so the Giselle engraving ended up having them too. These same historians have then argued themselves silly over whether the Wilis did (or did not) have onstage wings, as suggested in the engraving.
I don’t really care about all that. I do not agree with the Wilis’ wings for simple story line and technical reasons: These are Wilis-the vengeful ghosts of spurned dead brides, not playful Sylphs. The other reason I dislike the wings so intensely is that they bounce, which dead girls do not do; dead girls should float. When the Wilis should be floaty, their bobbing wings disrupt their otherwise solemn character. And they totally ruin the ‘calm upper body’ effect that Wilis are generally known to have, not to mention the line-spoiling tendency they have of puffing out the bridal veils in back.
Sylphs flit; Wilis float.
One interesting scenic departure was the Act 2 forest itself. While most traditional Giselle sets utilize a very majestic old-growth forest setting, this forest was a purposeful mess. Some of the trees had fallen and were horizontal, some piled diagonally onto each other, some remaining vertical. I proudly remarked upon this different scenic design to my ballet buddy (we balletomanes like to note these things to one another) and dontcha know he one-upped me? He had gone beyond noting the said difference and transcended to a state of grace by remarking,
“I felt the forest, with its haphazard trees in such disarray, was symbolic of the uprooted nature of the ‘Wilis’.”
(^or something very like that)
Hmph. Wish I’d said it. He was right. (Dammit.)
My Right Coast ‘Sister-in-Blog’ Tonya Plank had some interesting (and more in depth) observations that those of you who saw both the Bolshoi Ballet’s and the Royal Ballet’s live-streamed Giselles will find interesting; check her blog entry here.
Another worthwhile review from ballet.co.uk and written by Margaret Willis is here.
Tell me your preference in the comments section below:
Wilis With Wings
Wilis Without Wings?