Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Giselle: Ethereal in Tragedy or Beauty?

Nothing stirs soothing feelings of tragedy so much as a live stage production. Ballet Arizona's Giselle promised just such a pleasing concoction of ethereal sorrow with its description of a scorned almost bride who returns to haunt her lover in the graveyard. But I'm left wondering whether the ballet entirely met my Gothic expectations.

First, though, a note on the venue. This was the first time I had attended the Madison Center for the Arts, so I was curious about the venue itself, in addition to the ballet. There is benefit to being off of the 51 and away from busy downtown, especially on Super Bowl weekend. It's also a plus that the center has its own free parking; parking is always something to factor in when planning to go to Symphony Hall or another downtown venue. No worries about safety, either, especially if you're going alone, as I often do. This venue is much smaller than Symphony Hall, and so also has quite a small lobby. The design is simple but elegant enough for the more well-dressed ballet crowd. 

Seating is all on one level; while the rows are tiered, it isn't by much. At Symphony Hall, there are a few seats that can get even those of us shorter folks with lower sight-lines a clear view--but there didn't seem to be much avoiding all the heads in the way, unless you are all the way in the front rows. This may seem like nitpicking, but it really is an annoyance when you can't see the dancers' feet in a ballet--and when your view often cuts off at their waists. (I realize that I took a last minute, less-than-perfect seat. But being a few rows in wouldn't have made much difference.) Add to this the fact that the music was played from speakers instead of by a live orchestra and, well, I'm not sure that this venue is good enough for Ballet Arizona (especially at normal pricing).

Venue comments aside, what I most enjoyed about this production was the set design. Act I opened with a Snow White scene: physical, peasant cottage in the foreground and dreamy, royal castle in the background. Absolutely exquisite. And the pastoral setting perfectly conveys that feeling of innocence that we have in Giselle's early moments, when she believes in the love of Loys/Albrecht. Equally stunning was the cemetery backdrop for Act II, in which the moon glows with that ethereal beauty for which we were all hoping. 

What was odd to me was that, without reading the synopsis, I don't think I would have at all realized what was going on in the cemetery. That in itself isn't entirely odd: it's because you need a synopsis that one is included in the program when you go see a ballet. But what I mean is that I wouldn't have understood not just the plot but also the emotions of the scenes. The Willis are supposed to be these "malevolent spirits" set on bringing the male characters to their deaths--but when they're all dancing together, it just looks pretty. I don't feel the characters' fear. There is a little darkness when the set of spirits come out with their wedding veils on; it's reminiscent of the bride in Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. But I was expecting more of a push-pull type of dance when it came to their interaction with Hilarion and Albrecht. Something more deeply disturbing like what you get in Swan Lake (although perhaps I didn't feel like I got that because Giselle isn't quite as famous as Swan Lake and Swan Lake is famous for good reason). Still, it had its moments. The pretty music had its moments of becoming achingly tragic. I do love the achingly tragic. 

So while I had mixed feelings about this ballet, ultimately I'm left with images of the gorgeous sets and the emotional expression it all conveyed. And perhaps that was the ethereal that I craved to find. 

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