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Giselle — San Francisco Ballet Performance — Review

Giselle

San Francisco Ballet Performance

January 27, 2014

 

 

This is a very strange story that ultimately doesn’t make sense.  Maybe I just don’t understand it.  A prince disguises himself as a peasant and moves to a village to court a peasant girl of irresistible charm.  It would be like Jamie Dimon disguising himself as a bus boy to court a waitress in a restaurant.  A rather odd concept, don’t you think?  Especially since the prince is already engaged to another woman — but we don’t find that out until later. 

It is a narrative, and I do like ballets that attempt to create a narrative line simply through dance without verbal support.  But the narrative here is convoluted and rather bizarre.  Without first reading the synopsis in the program, a viewer would be lost trying to figure out what is going on.

The first act, after doing a passable job of establishing the story gives way to a long cadenza-like display of dancing virtuosity.  I had trouble grasping what all this athleticism had to do with the story.  There is nothing wrong with virtuosic dance.  This is, after all, the San Francisco Ballet.  But virtuosity for its own sake, is self indulgent and risks becoming dull if it is overworked.  I think this ballet, since it had so little substance in the story line, relied a little too much on dazzle.

I don’t like scenes where one or a small group of dancers perform while a multitude of bystanders sits idle on the stage just watching.  This technique is employed to excess in this ballet.  My feeling is that if someone is on the stage they should be doing something besides being part of the scenery.  I don’t like spearholders.  If they are doing nothing, then they should be doing nothing for a good reason.  Inertness should speak.  But in this ballet it doesn’t, and you’ve got these vast stationary multitudes on stage serving as an adjunct to the audience of paid ticket holders while a few dancers hold court.

The prince’s rival is Hilarion, a “woodsman,” or hunter from the village.  He is a known quantity to Giselle and she finds him much less appealing than the disguised prince.  Hilarion exposes the prince’s disguise, reveals his true identity, and the fact that he is already engaged to Bathilde, a woman of his own class.  This puts the kibosh on Giselle, and instead of taking it in stride and chalking it up to experience (or taking up with Hilarion), she runs herself through with the prince’s sword and dies.  You can always tell a vacuous story by the need for phony melodrama to pump some life into it — in this case, killing off the heroine at the end of the first act.

The music is undistinguished and tends toward the banal and the schmaltzy. Visually, however, it is very beautiful.  The sets, costumes, configurations and choreography are interesting and make a pleasing impression.  The dancers are outstanding, as usual.  The San Francisco Ballet has done a superb job with mediocre material.  Apparently it is enough to seduce the audience.  The house was full and seemed to give a good response to this vapid nonsense.

The second act was way too long.  It could have been cut in half to a much more pleasing effect.  It takes place at midnight in a forest where Giselle’s grave is located.  Giselle returns as a ghost accompanied by a cohort of Wilis, forest spirits all decked out in pure white wedding dresses, to comport with the prince who has come to visit her grave — in the middle of the night.  The tenor of the whole second act seems to imply no hard feelings on the part of Giselle toward the prince, even though she was upset with him enough to kill herself with his sword at the end of the first act.  Now that she is dead, all is forgiven and they dance like they are freshly love struck.  It’s idiotic and extremely repetitious.  I was getting so tired of it, just waiting for it to end, and it went on and on.  The curtain call seemed overdone as well, but then, I didn’t feel much like applauding and wanted to get out of there.

The moral of the story seems to be: you should not look for love outside your own social class, and if you are a woman, you are bound to get the worst of any such liaison — a reassuring, conservative, message for all the stodgy Republicans in the San Francisco audience.

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