Giselle captures the title as the crowning masterwork of the romantic ballet It is presented in two acts and was first performed in Paris is 1841. It became an immediate success, with staging of performances in the United States, Europe, and Russia. The ballet dramatizes the story of a beautiful young peasant girl, Giselle (Victoria Hulland) who falls for the flirtations of a disguised nobleman, Count Albrecht (Ricardo Graziano) looking to sow some wild oats before his marriage to Bathilde (Christine Windsor). Giselle's innocence captures the Count's heart and his affection captures hers. Giselle's mother Berthe (Sarah Krazit) is concerned for her daughter's delicate emotions and weak heart and tries her best to keep them apart with the aid of Giselle's admirer Hilarion (Ricki Bertoni), who soon discovers the true identity of the Count. When an Aristocratic hunting party arrives at their village seeking refreshments, a member of the party just so happens to be the Count's fiancé Bathilde. Her beauty and demeanor mesmerized Giselle. Hilarion reveals to Giselle that the Count has deceived her as to his true identity and is betrothed to Bathilde. In a moment of madness and despair Giselle grabs the Count's sword from the ground and kills herself.
Because Giselle committed suicide, she cannot be buried in the cemetery. Her remains are laid to rest in the forest next to other jilted victims of suicide. Act ll introduces the Wilis, ghostly spirits of dead girls who all died of broken hearts. They return to seduce men and dance them to death. They summon Giselle from her grave and target Hilarion and Count Albrecht for their dance of death. Hilarion succumbs to their advances but Giselle's love frees Albrecht from the same fate. Led by Myrtha (Amy Wood), the Queen of the Wilis, the femme fatale poltergeists gain their power in numbers and swirl and sway through synchronized whimsical patterns. They take command of the foggy, dimly lit stage with their long white tulle dresses and dispassionate countenance. Their motions appear as though they are floating across the stage after Albrecht. Giselle however finds forgiveness in her heart for him and in saving him, she saves herself from becoming one of the Wilis. Now he is free forever and she can rest in peace.
Not only is Giselle one of the most beautiful ballets created, it is one of the most difficult to perform. The story has so much to tell without vocalizing, it demands a solid repertoire of strenuous dance acumen, strong theatrical presence, and graceful yet bold gestures to convey its plotline. It demands almost as much acting as it does dancing and can be compared to pantomime at its best. Sarasota Ballet was up to the task. In attendance, choreographer Sir Peter Wright and former Giselle, Margaret Barbieri, who staged and coached this production must have been thrilled with this impeccable presentation.
Victoria Hulland, who also graced the stage as Giselle in 2009, was as delicate as a willow in the breeze. She always emanates an alluring grace and, especially as Giselle, demonstrated her diversity of character range, confidently moving from a timid young lady, to a tormented woman betrayed in love, to a compassionate celestial being guarding the suitor that was never hers in life.
Ricardo Graziano was particularly debonair as Count Albrecht, confident in his moves and magnetic in personality and facial expressions. He exuded strength and power in his dance and harnessed his character with a regal boldness that melted into a tender heart for Giselle. Hulland and Graziano bring magic together that always results in perfection.
Miss Windsor as the Count's betrothed, Bathilde was luminous in her finery. Definitely scoring a runway best dressed in a glorious red gown with puffed shoulders and further enhanced by a dramatic matching wide-brimmed hat with flowing plume. She and the ladies of her court projected an audacious opulence against the simple dress and aprons of the peasant girls in their attendance. Windsor carried an air of aristocracy that was gentle yet deliberate.
Miss Wood was graceful in her wickedness as Myrthe, summoning the Wilis, constantly leading their moves, and encouraging their dance of death in a relentless pursuit of Albrecht. Watch her dance - you'll see why she is the Queen. Ricki Bertoni as Giselle's jilted suitor Hilarion was authentic in his heartbreak in that she chose the Count over him, especially after he revealed Albecht's deception.
Under the baton of British Guest Conductor Barry Wordsworth, the always-amazing Sarasota Orchestra never sounded better. Wordsworth recently became the Music Director Laureate of Birmingham Royal Ballet and is currently Principal Guest Conductor of The Royal Ballet. Never failing to impress, the plain as well as elaborate costumes in this production ignited the beautifully appointed and ambient-lit stage.
Interesting fact: the name "Giselle" is derived from the Germanic word "gisil," meaning "hostage". Giselle was a hostage to love and once you have seen this haunting ballet, you will be a hostage to Giselle; wanting to see it again and again. Bravo Director Iain Webb and Sarasota Ballet! We can't wait for next year.