By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 9 AUGUST 2016 After Benjamin Millepieds first season,
dominated by abstract American choreography interspersed by contemporary
creators including Jérome Bel, Boris Charmatz, Maguy Marin and Sidi Larbi
Cherkaoui, the Paris Opera Ballet, the worlds oldest classical company,
returned to its roots with Giselle, the worlds oldest classical
ballet, created for them in 1841.
The original libretto, attributed to Théophile Gautier and Vernoy de St
Georges, was based on Gautiers reading of Heinrich Heines story of the
mysterious Wilis, those ghosts of young girls betrayed before their
wedding day, who haunted the mountains and forests of Germany. Within two
months, with the collaboration of choreographers Jean Coralli and Jules
Perrot and set to a score by Adolphe Adam, the popular composer of ballet
music and opera, Giselle was staged at the Royal Academy of Music
in Paris, forerunner of the Palais Garnier. The current version at the
Palais Garnier was updated in 1991 by Eugène Polyakov and Patrice Bart who
adapted the original choreography of Coralli, Perrot and Petipa, (who had
restaged the ballet in 1887), for the 150th anniversary of its creation.
Myriam Ould-braham in Giselle
Paris Opera Ballet
The story of the young village girl who fell in love with Loys, none
other than Albrecht, Duke of Silesia disguised as a peasant, before
discovering his true identity and dying of a broken heart has become one
of the best-loved classical ballets. It is famous above all for its
extremely beautiful "White act", which takes place at night in a mystical
forest where the Wilis relentlessly track down and dance to death any man
who crosses their path.
Giselle, a ballet which combines two distinct worlds, the
natural spontaneity and freshness in the village scene of Act I followed
by the other-worldly fantasy of Act II, is one of the jewels of the Paris
Opera Ballets repertoire. The work is beloved so much by the dancers, the
interpretation of the ballet at the Palais Garnier in June was stupendous.
The company was on home ground and danced with its heart and soul.
As soon as the curtain rose, the original set design by Alexandre
Benois, recreated by Claudie Gastine, swept the audience into a village
where the peasants were celebrating the grape harvest. Loys, alias
Albrecht, interpreted by Matthias Heymann who has changed places with his
valet, arrives on stage, a smiling, boyish figure, happy to have escaped
from the confines of the court and his loveless, impending marriage with
the proud princess Bathilde. Hes eager to spend time with Giselle, a
lovely young girl he has recently met. And as soon as Giselle, interpreted
by étoile Myriam Ould-Braham, comes on stage, one immediately
understands why. With her quiet, delicate charm, she is totally adorable.
Shes gentle and loving, sunny-natured with a sense of fun and a passion
for dancing despite the warnings of her mother because of her weak heart.
She is different from the women Albrecht has known, natural and with not a
thought in her head that Albrecht is any other than what he seems.
Matthias Heymann in Giselle
Photo: Svetlana Lobof
Heymann, known for his virtuoso technique and musicality, is at the
summit of his art. Able to convey his love for the young girl with a
single glance, hes oblivious of the consequences of his behaviour,
teasing her playfully in the love me, love me not scene, dancing with a
confident ease. Hes not a heroic figure, just a boy who has found
true love for the first time but fails to realise it until too late. His
one, fatal mistake was his reaction upon the arrival of Bathilde and her
father, the prince of Courlande, for instead of remaining at Giselles
side, he averts his face, and hangs his head in shame, shame at being
caught out in his unfaithfulness to Bathilde. His betrayal breaks
Giselles heart as she knows noblemen do not marry peasants. She loses her
sanity and dies in his arms. Albrecht, devastated, is overcome by his own
There is also the presence of Hilarion, a solid village boy also in
love with Giselle, albeit an unrequited love, who, by blowing a hunting
horn to bring the noble party to Giselles house and thus unmasking
Loys/Albrecht, brings about a tragedy rather than averting one. He had
suspected that Loys was a nobleman amusing himself with no intention of
marrying Giselle. His one thought was to protect the girl he cared so much
about from being hurt but his actions backfired.
Hilarion was intelligently interpreted by premier danseur
François Alu, a superb technician and strong character dancer, who brought
both dignity and pathos to his role. He did not act as a bitter, jealous
lover, but as a sincere young man whose only wish was for Giselles
happiness and whose early demise by the Wilis, who danced him to death,
was most unfair.
Corps de ballet of the Paris Opera Ballet in
Act II of the work touched greatness. The corps de ballet was
simply fabulous. The beauty of the 26 Wilis led by Mrytha, their queen,
brought tears to ones eyes. Each girl, in her gorgeous long white tutu,
haute couture, each costume requiring 48 metres of sheer tulle,
danced in the bright moonlight as though it was the last performance she
would ever give. In life, they had loved dancing so much that, become
Wilis, they left their tombs each night to dance in their bridal outfits
with flowers in their hair, and perversely take revenge on any man they
The Paris corps de ballet were dancing what they were born to
dance, soft, yet impassive, and Hannah ONeill as their
Queen was magnificent. Her technique plus her sense of style was
astonishing , yet even more so was the interpretation she gave,
neither venomous nor revengeful, but sad, oh so sad. She interpreted her
role with a steely determination, not once wavering from what she had to
do. But this Myrtha had suffered. She too had had a life before she was
betrayed and that life taken from her. Beautiful but implacable, the
spectators witnessed a star in the making.
Hannah ONeill in Giselle
Paris Opera Ballet
Both Ould-Braham and Heymann rose to new heights. This was no longer a
game, but the meeting of two souls. This was love after death, redemption
through forgiveness, as Ould-Braham, light and ethereal, pleaded for
Albrechts life, protecting and supporting him tenderly, defending him
spiritually as well as physically.
With their brilliant footwork, the two dancers were technically
sublime. Heymanns relentless series of entrechats, introduced into the
work by Rudolf Nureyev, which were performed repeatedly at the order of
Myrtha who was determined to exhaust him, had the audience gasping in
disbelief at the height.
As the coming of dawn robbed the Wilis of their victory, one could
almost feel Giselles soft sigh, as released from her anxiety she slipped
back into her grave, knowing she has saved Albrechts life.
One can only be grateful for the extraordinary accomplishment of
Clothilde Vayer, Maitre de Ballet associated to the dance
director, (in theory Benjamin Millepied who has already left Paris*), who coached the corps de
ballet, while the performances of all four stars were exceptional.
Adams score, played by the Orchestra of prizewinners from the Paris
Conservatory sparkled under the Belgian conductor, Koen Kessels.
*Aurélie Dupont, appointed
artistic director of the company will officially take up her function in
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has
contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance
consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in
Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for