By Arsen Serobian
San Francisco Ballet's production of Giselle on February 26, 2023, at the War Memorial Opera House, choreographed by Helgi Tomasson, is a breathtaking revival of the classical story ballet. The story of betrayal, love, death, and rebirth is brought to life by an incredible cast of dancers from SF Ballet's multinational roster. The lead roles of Giselle and Albrecht are performed by Misa Kuranaga and Angelo Greco, respectively, who deliver stunning performances that captivate the audience from start to finish.
The revival of Giselle is a significant moment in SF Ballet's 90th-anniversary season, as the company first presented the ballet in 1947. The production is a testament to the company's dedication to preserving and celebrating the art of classical ballet while also pushing the art form's boundaries with innovative choreography and production design.
This historic venue War Memorial Opera House, has been the home of SF Ballet since 1977 and is an excellent choice for this production. The Opera House features stunning architecture and design, creating an atmosphere of grandeur and elegance that is perfect for the timeless beauty of Giselle. Located in the heart of San Francisco, the venue is easily accessible to audiences from around the Bay Area and beyond.
Tomasson's version of Giselle expands Albrecht's dance sections. It adds a first-act solo, seamlessly blending the original choreography by Marius Petipa, Jules Perrot, and Jean Coralli with his own vision. This approach creates a production that is faithful to the original while also fresh and engaging for new audiences.
The second act of Giselle, featuring a chorus of ghostly maidens, is a standout moment in the production, showcasing the artistry and spirituality of the ballet. Tamara Rojo, SF Ballet's Artistic Director, notes that transforming the character from human to Willi is a unique challenge for dancers. The performers in this production rise to the occasion, delivering an unforgettable performance.
The cast of San Francisco Ballet's Giselle delivered a moving and technically impressive performance, bringing the classical ballet to life with skill and emotion.
Misa Kuranaga shone as Giselle, bringing a delicate vulnerability to the role while also demonstrating impressive technical control in her solo variations. Angelo Greco was a charismatic Count Albrecht, delivering soaring jumps and fluid partnering with Kuranaga. Steven Morse brought a sense of earthy realism to the role of Hilarion, portraying the gamekeeper's love for Giselle with a mix of tenderness and jealousy.
The supporting cast also excelled, with Anita Paciotti bringing a poignant maternal tenderness to the role of Berthe, Giselle's mother, and Val Caniparoli portraying the Duke of Courtland with regal authority. Elizabeth Mateer was a standout as Bathilde, the Duke's daughter and Albrecht's fiancée, conveying both warmth and a steely resolve. Andris Kundzins provided humor and charm as Albrecht's squire, Wilfred, while Lleyton Ho was a convincing servant to the Duke.
The Peasant Pas de Cinq was a highlight of the first act, with Lauren Parrott, Leili Rackow, Julia Rowe, Cavan Conley, and Lucas Erni displaying impressive coordination and precision in their ensemble work.
The production design, including scenic, costume, and lighting design by Danish artist Mikael Melbye, is superb, transporting the audience to Giselle's romantic and tragic world. The score, composed by Adolphe Adam with additional music, orchestrations, and arrangements by Friedrich Burgmüller, Ludwig Minkus, and Emil de Cou, is masterfully conducted by Ming Luke, and complements the choreography perfectly.
Giselle was first premiered in 1841, during the Romantic era of ballet, which was characterized by a focus on emotions, nature, and supernatural elements. The choreography of the ballet reflects this period, with delicate footwork, graceful movements, and expressive gestures.
While it is true that not all schools may provide historical dance classes, it is the responsibility of the dancers to research and study the historical context and style of the ballet they are performing. However, it is also the responsibility of the choreographer and ballet company to ensure that the dancers are adequately trained and prepared to perform the ballet with historical accuracy.
That being said, it is essential to note that every production of Giselle is unique. While historical accuracy is essential, it is not always the sole focus of a particular production. Some choreographers may incorporate elements of contemporary dance or a modern interpretation, which can result in a departure from strict historical accuracy.
While historical accuracy is essential to a ballet performance, it is not always the only factor to consider. Appraising each production with an open mind and appreciating the choreographer and company's unique interpretation and vision is essential.
SF Ballet's production of Giselle is a must-see for ballet lovers and anyone who appreciates the beauty and emotion of classical story ballets. This timeless masterpiece continues to captivate audiences 180 years after its premiere, and SF Ballet's production is a testament to the enduring power of this classical ballet.
In conclusion, SF Ballet's production of Giselle is a stunning revival of the classical ballet that will leave audiences spellbound. The combination of beautiful choreography, exquisite production design, and incredible performances from a talented cast make this a must-see production for ballet enthusiasts and newcomers alike. It is a testament to the enduring power of classical ballet and SF Ballet's commitment to bringing this timeless art form to new generations of audiences.