Beautiful and Bland By Bence Olveczky
Presented by the Boston Ballet
Wang Theater through Feb. 24.
Tickets $25-$78, $12.50 Student Rush
The Boston Ballet’s repertoire has always been an uneven mix of the old and the new, the classical and the contemporary. While their few forays into modern ballet, such as last year’s From Distant Shores, allow the company to experiment and tread new ground, it is the classic productions that are the crowd-pleasing money winners.
With lavish sets and costumes and classical choreography, the Company’s production of the 19th century ballet Giselle is another addition to the blockbuster category. It’s all very romantic, illusory, and professional, but the production, which comes to Boston from Australia, is also bland and boring, with few surprises. It is the kind of show your grandmother would have naggingly dragged you to when you were ten, insisting that you experience the high arts.
Giselle, with music by Adolphe Adam, opened appropriately at the Wang Theatre on Valentine’s Day. The romantic ballet, originally choreographed in 1841 by the granddaddy of classical ballet, Marius Petipa (Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake), tells the story of unrequited love. Giselle, innocent and beautiful, is courted by the already betrothed Prince Albrecht, who disguises himself as a peasant to increase his chances. Unaware of who her suitor really is, Giselle loses her heart to the charming prince. When his true identity is finally revealed, she also loses her mind in the famous “mad-scene” and eventually dies.
The second act takes place in a folkloristic dreamscape deep in the German forest, inhabited by the Wilis -- ghostly apparitions of young maids who have all died after being betrayed by their faithless lovers. This is where Prince Albrecht comes to mourn at Giselle’s grave, and where he is reunited with her ghost.
Plenty of dramatic infusion is needed to propel the story forward, and for it all to work, the dancers need also be good actors. Adriana Suarez, in the role of Giselle, pulls it off beautifully. She has an unequaled stage presence, and is able to communicate Giselle’s rapidly changing emotional states with grace and subtlety, being simultaneously frail and resilient, hurt and proud. Her “mad-scene” chillingly evokes a distressed and desperate soul and is clearly the highlight of an otherwise bland first act.
Yuri Yanowsky makes Prince Albrecht come alive as a studly aristocrat who is as much a victim of this romantic tragedy as is Giselle. His precision and agility is impressive, but sometimes his dancing seems more forced than graceful. The star that outshines them all, however, is Sarah Lamb, who completely dominates the second act as the Queen of the Wilis. Her light step and fluid, smooth movements gives the eerie impression of her character being, well, a ghost.
To distinguish a classical ballet production, the sets and costumes are as important as the dancers. In this department, Boston Ballet forgoes the daring and the imaginative and opts for the proven formula. In the first act the naturalistic stage design and the foliage colored costumes, both designed by Peter Farmer, leaves little to the imagination. It serves to create a rustic atmosphere that fits the story, but it fails in bringing the production into the 21st century.
Modernizing Giselle was clearly not on the Boston Ballet’s agenda. While their antiquarian approach to classical ballet may be a safe bet for the box office, in Giselle, it has given birth to a production that seems dated and tame, lacking in both emotion and urgency.
The second act is somewhat redeeming. With less grandiose costumes and stage props, and more imaginative use of the lighting, the stage is turned into an eerie fairyland. The stage is less crowded than in the first act, and the solos by the aforementioned Sarah Lamb -- and her two accompanying Wilis, Nao Kusuzaki and Rie Ichikawa -- become the highlights of an evening of dance that starts out a little dusty and tired, but picks up steam along the way.