Giselle by the Joffrey Ballet
Staged by: Lola de Ávila
Music: Adolphe Adam
Story by Snir Spinner
The Joffrey Ballet kicks off the 2017-2018 season with a passionate story of young love and forbidden pleasure. Performed for the first time in Paris, France over 170 years ago, Giselle is a timeless tale detailing the dissonance of mankind brought about by the inevitable separation of those that have and those that have not, the perpetual struggle to find the common elements of life that unite our spirits and of course, the ultimate equalizer of men, True Love.
Performed in the illustrious Auditorium Theatre (the stage itself over 100 years old) audience members are instantly transported to the Rhineland of ancient days and, as the curtain rises, feel at once at home in a quaint Germanic countryside and at the same time bemused by the fairytale-esque cottages and provincial costuming. Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier (the original Librettists) wasted no time introducing us to not only the protagonists and antagonists, but the entire village in a sparkling gallivant of brilliant choreography that we are sure made Ashley Weater himself proud as he moves into his tenth year as Artisitc Director of the The Joffrey Ballet.
Duke Albrecht of Silesia, a nobleman and prince of charm, captures the whimsy of young Giselle, a local peasant. She falls deeply for him, blissfully ignorant of his impending marriage to Bathilde, the daughter of the Prince of Courland. As they flirt throughout the merriment of the Grape Harvest festivities Giselle comes to learn of her lover’s engagement and perishes from grief. The Duke, who himself is taken aback by his love for the poor girl is beside himself with guilt and sorrow.
The second act begins with Albrecht visiting Giselle’s final resting place in the woods. We see Giselle once again, back from the grave and forced to agonize mankind through the impish behaviors of the Wilis--a gathering of deceased women who haunt passerbys with their restless dance and treachery. Based on the Polish/Slavic mythological wind nymphs often described as ghost-like wisps seen in sparkling beautiful white dresses and green skirts of leaves, we see these depictions come to life on stage as the beautiful costume designs hold true to the folklore visions.
The young maiden defends her love and ultimately saves his life. By not succumbing to the Wilis and their feelings of vengeance and hatred, Giselle is freed from their grasp and returns to her grave to rest in peace. The Duke is left heartbroken, and the audience is left in tears.
We see here the enormity of effect the French Revolution had on the playwrights of the early 1800s. Veering from the endless tales of the might of the Olympic Gods that commanded the stage for so many generations, Giselle’s story found popularity with the commoner. A story of human emotion told from the perspective of the ordinary and mundane was still a new idea at the time it was written.
I find it still speaks today to the plight of the heart. Which continues to beat steadily, oblivious to the litany of obstacles that stand between it, and it’s truest desires.