Boston Ballet – May 2002

February 14, 2002

Albrecht (Gaël Lambiotte) holds a lifeless Giselle (Larissa Ponomarenko) in Maina Gielgud’s staging of Giselle for Boston Ballet.
Farnsworth/Blalock Photography

Boston Ballet

The Wang Theatre
Boston, Massachusetts
February 14-24, 2002

Reviewed by Iris Fanger

It took an act of courage on Maina Gielgud’s part to return to the Boston Ballet to set her version of Giselle?and an act of daring for the company to invite her. Gielgud was appointed artistic director designate in September of 2000, but resigned less than six months later because of a complicated mix of expectations and recriminations.

Although Giselle is not new to the Boston Ballet repertoire, Gielgud staged her production in an exemplary manner, encouraging the dancers to recreate the melodramatic acting style so beloved by the nineteenth-century audiences that saw the ballet at its 1841 premiere. She laid out the story clearly, complete with sharply gestured mime passages, including the Act I description by Giselle’s mother of the Wilis hovering unseen in the nearby forest. The image was complemented by intimations of Giselle’s fate in John Lanchbery’s adaptation of Adolphe Adam’s score.

Mindful of the importance of the supernatural, Gielgud looked back to the original period for a manner of dancing that had the Wilis exchange virtuosity for its own sake to skim the ground as if gravity could scarcely hold them. As the peasants in Act I, the women of the corps de ballet added a tilt to their heads, which peeked out from under curved arms. Jonathan McPhee conducted the Boston Ballet orchestra at a quickened pace on opening night, except for portions of Act II when the slowed-down adagio passages allowed the dancers to sink into the music. The sets and costumes designed by Peter Farmer for Gielgud’s Australian Ballet production made the work look like a hand-colored nineteenth-century lithograph brought to life.

The company repaid Gielgud’s careful teaching by giving a highly polished, cohesive performance, led by Larissa Ponomarenko as Giselle and company newcomer Gaël Lambiotte as Albrecht in the first-night cast. They made a dream couple, with Ponomarenko’s natural majesty as well as her frail appearance reinforcing Albrecht’s attraction to her. It’s a partnership to be nurtured for the future. Pollyana Ribeiro, a more child-like Giselle, opposite Simon Ball, and Adriana Suárez and Yury Yanowsky alternated in the leading roles. Paul Thrussell played Hilarion as a street tough, pulling a knife in anger at his rival. Laura Young, a former Giselle when she was a principal dancer with the company, gave authority to the role of Giselle’s mother. Soloist Sarah Lamb (like Young, a product of the Boston Ballet school), is the comer among the younger dancers.

But it was the vision of the ghostly troupe of Wilis, both wraithlike in their white veils and mindful of the razor-sharp demands of the unison formations, that remained in memory as a token of Gielgud’s achievement.