Paris Opéra Ballet – February 2002

October 30, 2001

The Paris Opéra Ballet

Palais Garnier
Paris, France

October 30?November 10, 2001

Reviewed by Dan Gesmer

A handful of stirring performances in La Bayadère last May in San Francisco and Los Angeles, alternating as Nikiya and Gamzatti, may have been a first step toward garnering Aurélie Dupont the recognition she is overdue in the U.S. But in her debut in the starring role of Mats Ek’s 1982 remake of the 160-year-old classic Giselle, the 28-year-old Paris Opéra Ballet étoile showed why she long ago catapulted to stardom in Europe?despite, or perhaps because of, a gently maverick free spirit that has occasionally vexed some in her organization.

Ek’s version, given a modern rural setting and a substantial plot overhaul compared to the nineteenth-century original, may be the best-known of the alternative Giselles, with the possible exception of Sylvie Guillem’s cinematically realistic production, which received mixed reviews when La Scala Ballet performed it in July 2001 in New York.

Dupont is struggling with lingering injuries and learned the Ek choreography only weeks before her premiere, from the originator of the role, Ana Laguna. But she was touchingly nuanced and convincingly heartfelt as the village idiot who sees beauty and wonder everywhere, even in her totally uncalculating erotic attraction to Albrecht, who unties her from a literal tether only to break her heart. She slides her hand up the man’s leg and into his crotch with utterly unself-conscious simplicity; she undresses him as a curious child would unwrap a present.

The daughter of noted virologist Bertrand Dupont is an impressive actress with movie-star looks, so much so that she has been courted to appear in films. The central theme of Ek’s ballet?hat innocence, even the innocence of a fool, can underpin a loving wisdom and spiritual strength capable of guiding the decadent to redemption?seemed encoded in her very cells.

When Albrecht, danced by Dupont’s frequent partner, Manuel Legris, abandons the sweet, beautiful simpleton to rejoin his cultured fiancée, Bathilde, Ek’s scenario does not consign Giselle to an afterlife among the Wilis. Rather, she is committed to the local asylum, where Dupont quickly set aside her character’s previous flatfooted curiosity, awkward gallop, and hunched posture of shame and defeat. Wearing a suggestive white head bandage, she gradually assumed all the grace and composure required to forgive Albrecht, renew their bond of love and facilitate his rebirth (literally naked) into the outside world as a redeemed man.

With Dupont, Wilfried Romoli danced the role of Hilarion and Marie-Agnès Gillot that of Myrtha (the head nurse of the psychiatric ward in Ek’s ballet). In another cast, Céline Talon danced Giselle opposite Kader Belarbi as Albrecht, José Martinez as Hilarion, and Agnès Letestu as Myrtha.