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San Francisco Ballet


by Carmel Morgan

November 28, 2008 -- The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Opera House, Washington, DC

The opening night of the San Francisco Ballet’s production of “Giselle,” choreographed by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson after the Coralli/Perrot/Petipa version, smacked of Disney fantasy.  And why shouldn’t it?  The superb cast made “Giselle” sparkle, even if their performance was light on drama.  That the ballet came across as less Shakespearean tragedy and more pretty spectacle seemed appropriate for “Giselle,” the allure of which is really its beauty and not its somewhat silly plot.

Maria Kochetkova, who trained at the Bolshoi School in Moscow and danced with the Royal Ballet, the English National Ballet, and the Russian State Ballet, starred as a picture perfect Giselle.  Kochetkova’s diminutive size and sweet facial expressions make her ideal for the role of the innocent young heroine.  Joan Boada, as Count Albrecht, who captures then breaks her heart, was also well cast.  Boada is the definition of tall, dark, and handsome, and he dances like a dream.  Together, Kochetkova and Boada formed an eye-catching couple.  (The pair of white dogs that accompanied the hunting party was good-looking as well.)

The set, costume, and lighting design by Mikael Melbye, reminded one of a child’s storybook.  The German village where Giselle meets the disguised Count Albrecht popped with happiness.  Peasant women in aprons and kerchiefs traipsed around with baskets.  Smiling children wandered carefree.  The quaint cottage with the A-line roof where Giselle resides exuded rustic charm, and the forest where Giselle briefly reunites with Albrecht evoked an eerie atmosphere just right for the ghostly Wilis.

We first encountered Giselle as she exited from her cottage in a rush of girlish exuberance.  In that moment, her enthusiasm for dancing stood out as plainly as the purity of her heart.  The audience immediately fell for her, as did Albrecht, who espied her from behind some bushes.

Taras Domitro and Isaac Hernandez in the peasant pas de cinq hurled themselves about a little incautiously, in one case resulting in a wobbly landing, but the height of their jumps and the sight of their long legs flying amazed.  These two dancers, however, may need to rein in their energy a tad.  Boada and Pascal Molat as a dashing Hilarion, in contrast, possessed an effortless strength that didn’t make one nervous to watch.

Kochetkova and Sofiane Sylve, who recently joined the San Francisco Ballet from the New York City Ballet, were studies in contrast, too.  Kochetkova moved like the wind – light and wispy.  Even in her descent into madness, she seemed delicate, vulnerable, and childish.  Sylve, however, emitted the opposite qualities as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis.  With Sylve, one sensed a tough, indestructible, callous woman, appropriate since she coldly ordered both Albrecht and Hilarion to dance to their deaths.

Act II contained several highlights.  The corps dancers, as the Wilis, painted a beautiful, but tragic vision of brides who have died before their wedding day and must dance for eternity.  In long white tulle, they lifted their legs in arabesque and softly scooted forward, crossing in lines like puffs of mist.  Boada’s entrechats soared as if he were a puppet being pulled up by strings.  He softly swept Kochetkova off the floor so that she continually appeared to float above or beyond him.

Ultimately, the San Francisco Ballet delivered a lovable “Giselle,” which was affecting precisely because of its ability to successfully portray the splendor, if not the passion, in the formulaic tale.

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