Giselle brings death-defying love story to Grand Theatre stage

For one night only, the Great Russian Ballet dances into Kingston

Photo: 
Ballet Giselle proves the enduring attraction to stories of love, betrayal, and forgiveness. 
 
On May 1, the Great Russian Ballet performed Giselle at The Grand Theatre.
 
Giselle, advertised as a death-defying masterpiece of a love story, follows the courtship between young maiden Giselle and Duke Albrecht, who is already engaged to be married. 
 
The first act shows Albrecht as he disguises himself as a villager to win Giselle’s heart. He brings her flowers and patiently waits as she gains the courage to dance with him. 
 
The ballet was first choreographed in 1884 by Marius Petipa, the ballet master of the Imperial Russian Ballet. His brother, Lucien Petipa, danced as Duke Albrecht in the very first performance of Giselle in Paris, France. Today, it’s performed globally, and Giselle is one of the most coveted roles that exists for a prima ballerina. 
 
Giselle is a timid and reserved maiden, but the Duke insists on winning her over. Eventually, after declining his requests to dance several times, she dances with him and falls in love. The reaction to this might be inherently negative, causing modern audiences to wonder, “Why won’t he listen to her and leave her alone?” However, it was romantic in the end, as the plot establishes that the duo’s mutual interest. 
 
Towards the end of Act One, the audience catches on that the man is really a duke and he’s been lying to Giselle, pretending to be a commoner. 
 
The viewers watch—knowing she won’t end up with Albrecht since he’s already engaged to someone else—as she dances, swooning over him. 
 
In the final moments of Act One, Giselle discovers the truth and goes mad. She pulls her hair out of its neat bun and sobs, showing wild emotion. She runs across the stage, appearing to confuse and worry the rest of the dancers. 
 
The whole ballet relies heavily on the dancers’ ability to convey their emotions and dramatic tension through facial expressions and body language. Giselle’s loss of sanity is a perfect depiction of the necessity of this ability. If the ballerina didn’t have that skill, it wouldn’t be as believable when she climactically drops to the floor, brought to her death by betrayal and heartbreak. 
 
Anything less dramatic than the performance of prima ballerina, Natalia Balan, would have been underwhelming. Fortunately, Balan has been heralded as one of the most accomplished ballerinas to perform this role. Her grace on stage sets her apart from the ensemble of ballerinas, whose roles in the play are specifically designed to support her. They dance behind her or along the sides of the setting, but they’re never the centre of attention when Balan is on stage. 
 
This is most apparent in Act Two, when Balan’s Giselle fights against the will of the other ballerinas. All of the ensemble ballerinas in Act Two are the Wilis—ghosts of dead women whose lovers betrayed them. They wear white dresses and wedding veils, referencing their unrequited love and commitment to the men who deceived them. They haunt the forest by Giselle’s grave and force men who walk by to dance to their deaths. It’s a total power move. 
 
When Albrecht comes to grieve at Giselle’s grave, the Wilis start urging him to dance. The ballet’s dramatic climax begins when Giselle intervenes and shares the burden with him. 
 
Her love compels her to reject her fate as a Wilis. She can’t bring herself to make the man she loves dance to his death so the two dance together, slowly gaining speed and intensity. 
 
The ballet’s message of the power of love and forgiveness is obvious: they dance through the night and, in the end, Giselle is able to save him.  
 
Themes such as these add an enduring quality to the revenge plot that has kept the ballet relevant for so long. By the reaction of the audience during the standing ovation, Giselle is still a success in 2019. 
 

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.