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Shanghai Ballet

November 11, 2016


Reviewed November 10, 2016

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Repeat performances Friday & Saturday, Nov 11&12, 8 p.m.)


Giselle is to dance what Hamlet is to theatre. All the great ballerinas – Pavlova, Karsavina, Spessivtzeva, Markova – have performed the lead role. Royal Ballet’s Merle Park, who danced Giselle in 1970, was said to be one of the greatest and most powerful in the role.

And it’s significant to note how challenging a role Giselle is: the dancer must portray a simple, innocent, young peasant girl, a lover who goes mad with grief (and dies) and, finally, a supernatural ghostly being.

On Thursday night, Qi Bingxue presented a featherweight Giselle (and will dance Giselle again on Saturday). I don’t believe I ever heard her toe shoes touch the stage. Such an airy presence was she, delightful as the happy-go-lucky peasant girl in love, somewhat creepy as she came all undone with insanity at the end of the first act, and lovely and ethereal as a “Wili,” a doomed ghostly victim of an unfaithful lover.

As far as the story goes, she is not alone after death. Twenty such Wilis, as well as their queen, Myrtha (another challenging role for this ballet, danced beautifully by the long-limbed Xiang Yang) dominate the second act. Here this dramatic Romantic ballet moves into the supernatural realm, with the woodland scene taking on a blue-grey wash. The stage overflows with the wispy magical creatures, dressed in long white tulle dresses with crowns of white flowers on their dark hair, all moving in precise and perfect harmony, a parade of beautiful, unattainable, and dangerous zombie mourners.

The story in brief: young girl – Giselle — catches the eye of two young men, one a gamekeeper and the other a count. The latter, however, disguises himself as a peasant, but Giselle, nevertheless, is smitten and dances us through her demure response to his overtures to her blissful and intimate romp with her lover. Enter gamekeeper in an effort to reveal the count’s deception. And enter a royal hunting party, which includes the princess to which the count is engaged. The revelation spins our heroine out of control, her dark hair tumbles over her pale aghast countenance and she dies in her mother’s arms.

Okay, overly dramatic for sure, but the stuff of a great story ballet. And then the eerie second act has both lovers at Giselle’s grave (not at the same time), and the ghostly Wilis who force first the gamekeeper to dance to his death and then attempt to do the same to the count. Giselle intervenes, however, and though he must dance to exhaustion, the break of day calls away the spectral maidens, including Giselle, and the count is saved but bereft.

First choreographed by Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli in 1841, Giselle has come down to us through one ballet company after another, reworked, revised, but always popular. Shanghai Ballet, the state ballet company for Shanghai that has been around for 50 years in one form or another, is known for blending traditional and Western dance styles and tours extensively around the world. This is the first time it has come to Ottawa in nearly 30 years. Go see it!


From → Ballet

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