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New classical production
on 1 September 2010
This DVD preserves a performance by the Dutch National Ballet that took place in February 2009. Their Giselle was then a new production by Rachel Beaujean und Riccardo Bustamante (and considering that such productions usually stay in the repertory for a long time, it is still very new). The beautiful designs by Toer van Schayk look like 19th century paintings with their careful choice of colour and use of light. The painted backdrop for the first act shows the Rhine (in particular, the region between Bonn and Koblenz where there are hills and castles on both sides), a river that was a source of inspiration for romantic poets and travelers.
Although the stage designs are quite detailed (Giselle's hut has a gate), the Amsterdam stage itself is so spacious it never looks cluttered. The two sides of the Romantic era are conveyed exemplarily as the first act looks warm, sunny and folksy whereas the second act is closer to the dark, gothic atmosphere of some of Heinrich Heine's poetry. I especially liked the first entrance of the wilis and the way they form a circle around Myrtha like a sinister sisterhood, supported by very effective positioning of the camera somewhere high up. The wilis here also keep on their veils longer, which adds to the ghostly, spectral atmosphere.
If you have seen other performances of this ballet you will probably notice that in the first act there is a peasant pas de quatre and not a pas de deux like they have in Paris and Milan, or a pas de six (Royal Ballet). It gives more than two dancers the chance to shine and supports the idea of the village being a community, thus plausibly dealing with the problem that I always thought comes up when there is a Peasant Pas de Deux: who are these people and why do they dance this divertissement. (The Peasant Pas de Deux with music by Friedrich Burgmüller was interpolated into the first act before the ballet's original premiere for a ballerina who was the mistress of an influential patron of the Paris Opéra.) I love the "flute" variation danced by the second female dancer in the pas de quatre and would have liked to know if that piece is also by Burgmüller.
Another important piece of additional choreography is the new solo for Albrecht towards the end of the first act, which he dances immediately before Giselle's own variation. The music for Albrecht's solo is taken from another ballet by Adolphe Adam, Le Diable à Quatre.
Hilarion in this production is a young man close in age to Giselle who is passionately in love with her - when Albrecht attacks him after Giselle has died, he doesn't try to defend himself. He reminds me of the protagonist in Schubert's "Die Schöne Müllerin" or the Romantic rural figures in the works of Joseph Eichendorff, whereas Albrecht with his split identity maybe is a more modern character.
The DVD has an Extra consisting of interviews with the lead dancers Anna Tsygankova (Giselle), Jozef Varga (Albrecht), Igone de Jongh (Myrtha) and Jan Zerer (Hilarion) as well as with Rachel Beaujean and Riccardo Bustamante. They tell us their opinions about their respective characters in the ballet. Is Albrecht a cad? Jozef Varga thinks he isn't. He plays him as being genuinely in love with Giselle, but also as someone who as an aristocrat "never had to do anything like work, never had to lift a bench" and therefore is a stranger in the village community who watches people and their customs from a certain distance. I wish ballet conventions would leave more room to develop such things.