Giselle

 

Giselle ballet. Music by Adolphe Adam to libretto by Théophile Gautier and Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges. Choreography by Marius Petipa, Jean Coralli, and Jules Perrot as revived by Yuri Grigorovich. Recorded 2011 at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow. Stars Svetlana Lunkina (Giselle), Dmitry Gudanov (Albrecht), Vitaly Biktimirov (Hans [Hilarion]), Maria Allash (Myrtha), Elena Bukanova (Berthe), Ekaterina Barykina (Bathilde), Alexay Loparevich (Duke), Vladislav Lantratov (Wilfreed), Chinara Alizade and Andrey Bolotin (Pas de deux des paysans). Pavel Klinichev directs the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra. Set and costume designs by Simon Virsaladze; lighting design by Mikhail Sokolov; produced by François Duplat; directed for TV by Vincent Bataillon. Released 2012, disc has 5.1 dts Master Audio sound. Grade: C+

This Bolshoi Giselle is not competitive with the other HDVDs we have (October 2014) of this classic. I think Yuri Grigorovich in 2011 was more concerned with the billion-dollar renovation of the Bolshoi theater than he was with perfecting current productions. This show was probably enjoyable live at the Bolshoi.  But as you can see from the streenshots below, little or no attention was given as to how to make the show look good to the HD video camera. 

The Bolshoi stars are all fine dancers, but none of them has enough personality to leave a lasting impression. So to overcome the lack of outstanding stars, everything else about this production would have to be smashing; which, alas, is not the case.

I should say now that the Bolshoi orchestra plays well. I don't plan in this review to explain the plot of Giselle. I've already covered this in several earlier reviews that you should consult now if you are rusty on the story.

In the Bolshoi Act 1 (Giselle's village) there is a relatively small cast on a huge stage, which makes the dancers look lonely. Here we see the stage with Albrecht (Dmitry Gudanov) alone:

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To avoid the forlorn look, Bataillon uses a lot of near and close-up shots. But this gets him into other kinds of trouble. The backdrop for the set shown above looks fine to someone in the live audience. But when you move in with an HD camera for a near-shot of Albrecht and Giselle (Svetlana Lunkina), it's painfully obvious how primitive the painting is:

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The HD camera also reveals how cheap some of the costumes are. Here Albrecht's vest look like it was made from plastic:

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I think all our HDVD productions use 12 girls for the harvest celebration scenes. But the village below seems to be a depopulated place where the young men have gone to work in another country leaving the poor girls to dance for themselves. (Well, turns out the men are employed in the Duke's army, but we don't have room for a screenshot of that.)

The choreography of this production is quite different from the other HDVDs we have of Giselle. Many things I'm used to seeing are missing. For example, during the harvest celebrations, I like the part where Giselle's mother in pantomime warns Giselle of the dangerous ways of men and warns the men about the dangerous ways of the Wilis. This Bolshoi version doesn't have this---the harvest celebration is pure dancing:

There's plenty of opportunity in the libretto at this point for the choreographer to show off the solo skills of many younger members of the company. The Bolshoi has, I think, more dancers than anybody else.  But Grigorovich chose to put just one featured couple (Chinara Alizade and Andrey Bolotin) on the vast stage. They are great, of course, but somehow I expected more dancers:

Now the royals arrive. Everything about the royal party here seems stilted and wooden compared to other HDVDs we have. This comes, I think, from lack of attention to personal direction of the dancers in this complicated scene. In the Bolshoi version, Giselle doesn't dance for the Duke (Alexay Loparevich) and Princess Bathilde (Ekaterina Barykina). Bathilde thinks Giselle is charming and gives her the beautiful necklace as a tip for pouring the wine:

And what a sorry prop the beautiful necklace is---it looks like something you would win at a county fair for knocking over beer bottles:

Lunkina is a decent dancer, but not much of an actress. While she does her best to go mad, the royals are chatting with each other is little groups with their backs to the action. To me, this is miserably bad directing. The royals should be as interested in the scene as anyone because one of their own is slumming around pretending he's a peasant:

This Giselle dies of a weak heart:

I haven't tried to hide my disappointment with Act 1. Act 2 is better.  Still, I have to report that Act 2 does have two silly pieces of stagecraft that threaten to mar the whole Act. First, below you see Hans (Vitaly Biktimirov) visiting Giselle's grave. Hans begins to feel the grave site is haunted. Strange lights start blinking in the bushes---below you should be able to count 6 lights if you look closely. Later you see the blinking lights all over the stage. These lights might have been a thrilling special effect 75 years ago (How did they make them blink like that?). But today they just look tawdry like those horrible blinking Christmas tree lights the Americans love so much. Second, a bit later Giselle's ghost appears in a tree with a branch that that drops down like one of those guard-rails that keeps you from being run over by a train. And after the tree branch comes down, Giselle pelts Albrecht from above with roses. This was probably a thrilling special effect 200 years ago.

Myrtha (Maria Allash):

A welcome surprise---the white corps has really pretty dresses and tiaras:

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The whites number 27: 24 plus Moyna (not credited), Zulme (not credited), and Myrtha. It's really hard to see how they perform in moving formations because Bataillon mostly shoots from floor level, which obscures how orderly the files are. It seems to me they are a bit ragged on the move while doing better than the Royal Opera House corps.  But the Bolshoi corps here is no threat to the Paris Opera Ballet white forces:

Here's a shot made from above in which the corps looks great:

A still formation with perfect alignment:

When the corps gets going, I can forget the blinking lights and the rain of the roses. First the Wilis kill Hans and now they have Albrecht:

The dancing in this Act 2 is quite different from the other HDVD versions of Giselle. If you are a ballet expert, then you would probably need this disc just to see how Grigorovich handles Act 2. Acting and personal directing are not very important at this point. Now we are dealing with pure choreography at the highest level that exists in the art of dance:

Albrecht's last plead for life. Myrtha is ready to condemn him, but he's saved by the light of day as morning approaches:

So now for a grade. To protect their franchise, the Bolshoi folks will have to do a better than this. I give Act 1 a "D" grade and Act 2 a "B." So I'll call this a "C+" title. I point out that since this Giselle came out, the Bolshoi finished its billion-dollar renovation project and has published two of the greatest ballet HDVDs ever (a Sleeping Beauty and a Bayadère). Don't be surprised if they come out soon with a new and improved Giselle.