Giselle (Greta Hodgkinson) and Albrecht (Guillaume Côté) | Credit: Aleksandar Antonijevic & The National Ballet of Canada

National Ballet’s Giselle – An Elegant Masterpiece

With the performing arts, we often revisit the classics. Shakespeare is a fantastic example. The times have changed, along with our interests, but we forever go back to Bard’s thought-provoking works. They connect with us, one way or another, creating a bond that becomes personal, emotional and strong. Every form of art has a handful of thought-provoker ‘sand Giselle could very well be the quintessential ballet example.

Created in 1841, Giselle is a beautiful, romantic piece that is broken down into two acts. The story follows the journey of Albrecht – the Duke of Silesia, disguised as Loys, a villager – and Giselle, a peasant girl living with her mother. They share a common love for dance, which in turn fuels their love for one another. Also in love with Giselle, Hilarion – a forester – works hard to unmask Loys as Albrecht and ensure his potential marriage to Giselle. During a visit by a royal hunting party, Hilarion confronts Loys and unmasks Albrecht, a move that uncovers his engagement to Bathilde. Feeling betrayed, Giselle loses her mind, loses every sense of reason and commits suicide. The tale continues, showcasing the guilt and regret both men have, tested against forces they do not quite understand.

Giselle (Greta Hodgkinson) and Albrecht (Guillaume Côté) | Credit: Aleksandar Antonijevic & The National Ballet of Canada
Giselle (Greta Hodgkinson) and Albrecht (Guillaume Côté) | Credit: Aleksandar Antonijevic & The National Ballet of Canada

Giselle shares a lot in common with Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet: the tale of two lovers, interrupted by those close to them and ending in tragedy. This ballet, however, is much more. You are presented with a handful of dynamic characters, each working together to cover multiple themes; love, betrayal, guilt, regret, to name a few. The presence of these various themes provide depth and fluidity to the story, creating a very powerful and moving visual experience.

The ballet is all about contrast. The first act presents audiences with a happy, colourful peasant lifestyle compared to the cold, dark, moonlit forest glade of act two. From a scene of happiness and dance, audiences are taken into the demonic world of the Wilis and the over-arching theme of death and guilt. Giselle’s mad scene begins the transition between these two contrasting acts. We see a happy peasant girl pass away and take the form of a ghostly vision, one that does not capture the character she was before. One factor that aids this element of contrast is the overall design of stage. It is quite breathtaking, giving great amounts of detail while not stealing the focus away from the characters

Giselle (Greta Hodgkinson) and Albrecht (Guillaume Côté) | Credit: Aleksandar Antonijevic & The National Ballet of Canada
Giselle (Greta Hodgkinson) and Albrecht (Guillaume Côté) | Credit: Aleksandar Antonijevic & The National Ballet of Canada

The highlight of Giselle are the performances. You are at times breathless, on the verge of tears or simply smiling. The meticulous performances truly captivate the evening. Greta Hodgkinson takes Giselle out of the text’s context and brings her to life on stage. You are presented with a character who seeks love and the need to showcase her love, yet is confined by things she wishes to escape. Hodgkinson solidifies every level of emotion through every step and movement, presenting to the audience a character that is beyond words.

Guillaume Côté is someone who needs no introduction. His portrayal of Albrecht is equally powerful, capturing the smooth charm and stature of a duke, hidden away within his disguise as a peasant. The chemistry between Hodgkinson and Côté is brilliant, truly multiplying the emotional impact the audience has watching their two characters interact. Côté truly captures the Romeo-like elements of Albrecht, delivering a splendid performance from opening to close.

Wilis (Artists of the Ballet) | Credit: Aleksandar Antonijevic & The National Ballet of Canada
Wilis (Artists of the Ballet) | Credit: Aleksandar Antonijevic & The National Ballet of Canada

The company is as talented as they get. All the dances were in sync, capturing the mood perfectly and keeping audiences engaged throughout. End of it all, though, the spotlight falls back on Giselle. Some say the character is the ballerina’s Hamlet and quite rightly so. The role is emotionally exhausting, combining complicated dance with extreme emotional moments. Hodgkinson delivers on every front and beyond anyone’s expectations. Her performance, simply put, was golden.

Giselle can be described as a well-crafted, elegant masterpiece. That too would be an understatement.

Giselle plays at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts until December 9th, 2012. For information on the show and to purchase tickets, please CLICK HERE

Giselle (Greta Hodgkinson) | Credit: Aleksandar Antonijevic & The National Ballet of Canada
Giselle (Greta Hodgkinson) | Credit: Aleksandar Antonijevic & The National Ballet of Canada