|| The Boston Globe
|| October 2, 2009
|| Thea Singer
Maina Gielgud’s production of the 19th-century Romantic classic “Giselle,’’ danced with eloquence and depth last night by the Boston Ballet, is so lucid in its portrayal of the work’s central themes that each time you see it, you grasp something new, not only about the piece’s structure, dynamics, and steps but about the capacities of the human soul. Indeed, Erica Cornejo (Giselle) and Nelson Madrigal (Prince Albrecht) in the lead roles spark an insight of timeless proportions: that there is redemptive power not just in forgiveness, but in how shattered dreams can make us grow.
In two acts, the pair travel from a world of sunny, adolescent love to unspeakable grown-up grief as they trace the ballet’s narrative arc, told as much in simple, clear gestures - here a cock of the head asking “Whatever was I thinking?,’’ there a flounce of the skirt exclaiming, “See how I love to dance!’’ - as in the dancing itself.
Originally choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot and with music by Adolphe Adam, “Giselle’’ is a love story gone irrevocably wrong: Giselle, a shy peasant girl, and Albrecht, a prince disguised as a peasant so he can court her, are in love. The woodcutter Hilarion, sleekly danced by Boyko Dossev, also loves Giselle, and reveals Albrecht’s deception in hope of gaining her hand. Giselle, thunderstruck, goes mad and dies, only to return as the newest member of a cabal of Wilis, the spirits of engaged young women who died before their wedding day.
The Wilis are under the zombie-like control of their queen, Myrtha, danced by Kathleen Breen Combes with ice in her veins and and arabesques as sharp as knives. The Wilis themselves, all gossamer and mist, must dance from midnight till dawn, forcing any man who crosses their path to dance to his death.
Albrecht, laying flowers on Giselle’s grave, gets caught in their grip. But Giselle intervenes, keeping Albrecht (barely) on his feet till dawn, when the Wilis and their queen must return to the earth.
Cornejo as Giselle in Act I is so sprightly, so fresh, so light on her nimble feet that you wonder: Can she transform from real to shadowy madness and then to supernatural in the moonlit forest scene that is Act II?
Remarkably, she does, slipping as if from solid to liquid to air. In her delirium, Cornejo fairly sleepwalks through steps she performed earlier with vigor and spice, her eyes blank, her limbs moving as if pulled by strings. As a new Wili she’s white as a ghost, drifting across the stage or arcing backward untouchable as a memory. You know she can move light as air only because in reality she’s as strong as steel.
Madrigal shifts from boy to man in the span of the ballet’s two hours. His earlier callowness - he stumbles and shuffles when his deception is revealed - grows into wisdom. As he lifts Cornejo limp overhead, your heart breaks for him. He knows that the woman he tricked is now saving him. Madrigal communicates all of this with the most subtle of gestures, such as the simple, slow twist of the neck that manifests his grief.
For the audience, the chemistry of the lovers pushes open a new way of seeing: Are they real? Are they only in each other’s imagination? Where does life end and memory begin?