The National Ballet of Japan is doing a performance of Giselle and Ben and I went this week to see the show. Giselle is one of the most popular shows performed on stage. It is a tale of unrequited love and tragedy, and its charm lies in the emotional journey you take with the dancers.
I will walk you through the performance with me.
The curtain opens, and Albert (performed by Atsuji Yasuo), a nobleman walks onto the stage, he holds out his blue cape, which is the only indication he will give throughout the entire performance of his royal connection. He is joined onstage by Hans (performed by Wajima Takuya), a man desperately in love with Giselle. The two continue to walk about the stage, and at some point Albert changes his outfit. Keep in mind that this is a fairly short ballet, each moment should be poignant. Dancers have countless ways to transport themselves across the stage, they can prance, waltz, glide, march,… anything but walk.
According to the brochure we were given, the character Albert, woos Giselle (performed by Yonezawa Yui), the performers not only failed to put any emotion into their roles, they frequently fell out of sink with each other on dance moves. Albert’s proposal to Giselle was completely missed.
Dignitaries, and companions of both parties walk onto the stage. While the company is dancing, they give a fine, though lackluster performance. When they act as back drop to more prominent characters, they are notably bad. The cast frequently dropped poses, fidgeted, and didn’t add in any way to the environment of the celebration they were all supposed to be enjoying.
The mother looked on the festivities with distress, she was worried about the fragility of her daughter, and tried to coax her back into the safety of the home, the mother was the only performer that showed any semblance of emotion during the first act. Giselle’s break away from sanity, and sudden death resembled her interpretation of flirtation. I would not have known that this was the point in the story where she died if it hadn’t been for her greiving mother.
By the end of the first tedious act, almost none of the dancers showed they were qualified the for the roles they filled, the only exceptions being the mother, and peasant pa de deux (performed by Hosoda Chiaka and Okumura Kosuke) who did a lively, and stunning celebratory dance together.
During the intermission I took a moment to collect myself, I had to remind myself that I still enjoyed the ballet, despite the fact that a cast of robots would have been more interesting. I was disappointed, and wondered where all the charming dancers I had seen in Cinderella had gone. As we sat down to the second act, I took a moment to reset my expectations.
The second act began with a delicate and whimsical dance by Giselle in front of her grave. Hans and Albert took moments to walk on and off stage, the point of which was very unclear. Hans and Albert never showed why they had been cast as the leading male rolls, luckily they were minor characters for the duration of the second act.
Willis floated onto the stage, and encompassed their roles as forest fairies. Magic emanated from them as they connect in one symbiotic troupe, each move was perfection, each hop was adorable. Their ability to work as one large mass, sensational. The now dead Giselle was now a fountain of grace, subtlety, and beauty. The second act was playful and emotive, showcasing every reason you go to see Giselle.