Magazine article The Spectator

Thwarted Pathos

Magazine article The Spectator

Thwarted Pathos

Article excerpt

Dance

Giselle (La Scala Ballet Company) Giannandrea Poesio Giselle is arguably one of the most revisited classics of the 19th-century repertoire. The story of the peasant girl who becomes a vengeful spirit because of her compulsive passion for dancing, and the eternal theme of love beyond death, have often - if not too often - titillated the fantasy of many in the dance profession. We have seen the modern/postmodern barefoot Giselle, who ends up in an asylum; the Nazi and the Creole ones, set respectively in a concentration camp and in the Louisiana Bayous; the roaring 1920s version; the Pre-Raphaelite reading; and even the post-postmodern one, danced in its entirety by a barefooted and barebreasted solo female performer.

Regardless of their wackiness or geniality, each of these versions stands out for its thematic, choreographic and stylistic unity, something that cannot be said of Sylvie Guillem's new adaptation of the 1841 ballet. Dramatically unfocused and choreographically flawed, Guillem's version is neither brave nor truly radical, resulting in an unimpressive hybrid in which newish yet predictable solutions alternate with quotations from the standard text.

None of the choreographic sequences is remarkable or unforgettable, and the combination of pure balletic classicism with trite pseudo-choreographic realism soon becomes tiresome. It is also clear that the choreographer/interpreter has carefully tailored the title role to suit Guillem's known abilities, for she does not spare us any of her six o'clock legs and breathtaking circuslike balances. Unfortunately, such a gratuitous display of virtuosity detracts greatly from the dramatic depths of the main character. Guillem has never been a credible traditional Giselle, and remains completely unconvincing in her own reading of the ballet. Hers is the coldest, least emotion-stirring Giselle I have seen in some 35 years of Giselle-going. Unlike most of the other members of the cast, who are busily engaged in all sorts of distracting and stereotypical characterisations - the flirt, the village idiot, etc. - Guillem sails through the two acts of the dramatic ballet as if it were a plotless one.

Alas, the old storyline is one of the few things that has not been altered in this production, and still begs desperately for some kind of convincing acting and interpretation. …

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