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PARIS, 24 April 1998 - Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot's best known heroine, Giselle, was at the centre of an historical strip-tease at the Palais Garnier on February 12. More than seventy years of unnecessary cultural dressing-up was removed with the revival of the famous 1924 version when costumes and decor were designed by Alexander Benois, artistic director of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, while the main role was danced by Olga Spessivtseva, acknowleged as the greatest Giselle of the century .
Benois' traditional and romantic designs which were totally in keeping with the epoch when Giselle was created had been submerged over the years by decors by Carzou((1954), and Bosquet(1972), neither particularly appropriate for France's greatest masterpiece. Worse, in 1991 Patrick Dupond, artistic director 1991-1995, in one of several blunders, enthusiastically supported a most hideous version by Le Groumellec , a little-known modern French artist. Set in Brittany, the cumbersome ugly costumes quite obscured and detracted from some of the finest choreography of the Romantic era.
Giselle's rightful setting in any traditional performance is the Rhine valley, for the ballet is based upon the story Zur Geschichte der neueren schonen Literatur in Deutschland by Heinrich Heine in which Theophile Gautier discovered the legend of the Wilis, the avenging spirits of young girls who, jilted by their fiancés, died before their wedding-day and danced to death any man they came upon by night.
Gautier's libretto, written in collaboration with Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges, tells the tale of the simple peasant girl who loves Albrecht, unaware he is a nobleman. Jealous of Albrecht, Hilairion, a gamekeeper who is infatuated with Giselle, reveals his rival's true identity. Realising he is to marry another, Giselle goes mad and dies. In Act II, the very essence of romantic ballet, the Wilis appear at midnight and finding Albrecht, try to perform their ghostly rite until Giselle intervenes to save his life.
Traditionally a display piece for all the great ballerinas because its success depends so much on the expressive qualities of the heroine, Giselle was danced with poetry and passion on February 26 by Elisabeth Maurin, an artist of rare dramatic gifts. She was partnered by the handsome Kader Belarbi, more often seen these days in works by contemporary choreographers, whose performance was both moving and virile. The excellent corps de ballet was led by Delphine Moussin as their remorseless yet fragile queen.
A last-minute change of programme deprived the full house audience of a chance to see recently promoted première danseuse Ghislaine Fallou in the peasant pas de deux (music Burgmuller) before she takes over the starring role in June in a second series of performances. Fallou, an exceptionally gifted pupil of the Opéra school entered the company with a special dispensation at the age of fifteen and her delicate qualities, not least her extraordinary musicality are finally being recognised by those responsible for casting. Her performance in June can only be enhanced by the decor, which is pure enchantment, and by the hauntingly evocative music.
In his delightful book, The Ballet Called Giselle ,
Cyril Beaumont dwells at length on the music of Giselle ,
which " whispers of a leisured age forever past". For a
brief space, « he tells us, " the air seems
faintly perfumed with the fragrance of parma violet and gardinia-
potent in its power to captivate and enchant those members of the
audience willing to surrender to its mood"». Few were those
who failed to succumb to the spell last night.
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