The Royal Ballet’s Giselle Simulcast With Marianela Nunez

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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.

Marianela Nunez and Rupert Pennefather in Giselle; © John Ross

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:

In spite of the purity of her lines and the suppleness of her bourées in Act 1, it is in Act 2 that this Giselle made her mark. The Bournonville style sang through her as her calm upper body belied the frenetic energy of her feet and I would be remiss if I didn’t remark on her solid Romantic épaulement and what have to be a pair of the most unaffected arms I have ever seen. No index fingers popping up or unsuitable sharp wrists here. Nothing seemed forced. Her port de bras was breathtakingly expansive, fluid and correct, yet it seemed natural somehow-like it was coming from within her. Normally I’m crazy for feet (fellow Dancers will know what I mean…), but this Ballerina’s arms were to die for. I never got the impression that she was putting them here…and then there…just for choreography’s or style’s sake. They were there because Giselle’s arms flowed there naturally.

Marianela Nunez and Rupert Pennefather in Giselle; © John Ross

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.*)

Helen Crawford in Giselle; © John Ross

 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. 

Gary Avis as Hilarion in Giselle; © John Ross

Yuhui Choe as Moyna in Giselle; © John Ross

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.


The Royal Ballet’s Giselle; © John Ross

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 and written by Margaret Willis is here.

Tell me your preference in the comments section below:

Wilis With Wings


 Wilis Without Wings?

‘Wilis With Wings’; The Royal Ballet’s Giselle © John Ross

About Odette's Ordeal

'Ballet's Head Cheerleader'
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11 Responses to The Royal Ballet’s Giselle Simulcast With Marianela Nunez

  1. lookchoozact says:

    Agree, no wings, just grief, veiled and unveiled.

  2. michael mcgraw says:

    love rupert. played beauty for him and sara lamb when i was in london a few years back.

  3. Lucrezia Borgia says:

    I prefer my wings fried and in a bucket, not on Wilis.

  4. JON BORSET says:


  5. Janko Raven says:

    The only point in this production where the wings don’t ruin too much for me is the fact that all the Wili save Giselle have them, which helps drive home the fact that she is not condemned to their tragic existence at the night’s end.

  6. Gabi says:

    Willis without wings.The only thing I didn’t like in this production

  7. Love Marianela so much. Saw her as Nikiya a couple of years ago- will be forever etched in my memory, absolutely beautiful.

    • Much envious am I! Although I do enjoy the ballet simulcasts, I have been longing for Alina Cojocaru, Lauren Cuthbertson, and Marianela Nunez LIVE-here in the San Francisco Bay Area. SF Ballet has successfully ‘swapped’ performances with Paris Opera Ballet in the past, and is currently doing the same with Hamburg Ballet (SFB was there this summer and Hamburg will be here in a few months), but it has been far too long since we’ve seen the Royal. The incredibly amazing Darcy Bussell and Viviana Durante were the reigning ‘rinas when the Royal last graced the Opera House stage in SF and they were sponsored by the SF Opera, not the ballet.
      Here’s a somewhat amusing ‘Royal Ballet in SF’ tale for you: I remember, though I often wish I didn’t, that Irek Mukhamedov yelled at the conductor several times in a row for a too-slow tempo *during* his Swan Lake performance as Siegfried (yes, I did say “yelled” and “several times”); it was the singular most unprofessional ballet moment I have ever witnessed in all my years of observing ballet! Jaws dropped, the audience gasped, and I have never cared for him since that incredibly egomaniacal display. Viviana Durante was his Odette/Odile and saved the performance with her stupendous technique and beautiful artistry. Let it be said that she was in peak form…and he was not.
      A slow tempo during a turn sequence is always troublesome (it requires more control) but especially so for someone who isn’t as fit as they should be. Yes, he *had* been a big star, but he had also been directing his own company at the time, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and guess his lack of fitness (he was visibly heavy) was due to simply spreading himself too thin (oh, the irony!)
      Even so, I have never seen (or heard!) such unprofessional conduct from any other ballet dancer, let alone a world renowned bonafide star, in my life of viewing hundreds of performances! If Rudi or Misha or Carlos or Angel or Jose Manuel or David (Hallberg) or Ethan or Rupert or Ivan or Vladimir ever were so unprofessional, it wasn’t on my watch! (And yes, we obviously still talk about the incident here in SF, so dancers beware!; you do *not* want to be remembered for your bad attitude, whether it’s an imperfectly executed ‘attitude’ in ballet terminology, or a personality defect!)
      That all said, the artists of the Royal Ballet are greatly respected here in SF, as is the RAD training itself; I know I speak for many when I bemoan the scarcity of their appearances here in one of the world’s greatest dance meccas. Royal Ballet, we miss you. Wouldn’t it just be An Fab if you dropped by to strut your stuff under your new AD, Kevin O’Hare? Methinks so.

  8. Thanks so much for sharing this anecdote about Irek Mukhamedov. I can’t believe he was permitted to behave in such a fashion. If that happened to anyone else they’d be sacked! I’m sure they had words about it!! It’s amazing how much power a “star” can wield- they must get so used to having everything their own way! From what I’ve read I don’t think Darcey Bussell particularly got on with him.

    I would have loved to have seen Durante perform, I’ve only seen her on recordings but she’s one of my favourites. I saw Darcey briefly in the Awakening pas de deux by Ashton and she was sublime. This was a wonderful mixed programme in which Tamara Rojo did Ashton’s Five Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan (so, so beautiful), Sarah Lamb the Thais Pas de Deux, Cojocaru was also performing Daphnis and Chloe. They were all superb. It was a wonderful bill.

    I’ve met Lauren Cuthbertson after a performance before. She stopped to have a photo taken with me (I’m such a ballet geek!) and she was so lovely. All the dancers look so stunning- they all seem to wear designer fashions! They look like models when they come out of the theatre! Also saw her perform in Romeo and Juliet last year with Edward Watson- they were stunning.

    I don’t know much of San Francisco Ballet except recently I saw The Little Mermaid on TV which I thought was gorgeous, but so so sad! I believe Clara Blanco is with SFB, I saw her briefly on TV once in the European Young Dancer competition. She danced the Giselle act one solo and I fell in love with her!

    If I knew Kevin O’ Hare I’m sure I’d love to persuade him to drop by San Francisco!!

  9. Paul says:

    She’s technically brilliant but somehow does not exude the lightness and the purity of line that Makarova had at her prime…may be partly due to her shoulders being squarish and not sloping like Fonteyn’s or Makarova’s.

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