Friday, December 7, 2012


Special to TorSun
07 DEC 2012
R: 4.5/5

Pictured: Greta Hodgkinson

As enduring stories go, it hasn't a patch on the masters — the works of Chaucer, say, or Shakespeare or even Goethe. But there is something — a certain timeless and heart-wrenching je ne sais quoi — that pulls you into GISELLE, the 170 year-old ballet Karen Kain has chosen as her lead in to a festive season normally marked only, at least on the calendars of the true balletomane, by the National Ballet of Canada's annual production of The Nutcracker. GISELLE opened in a limited run at the Four Seasons Centre Wednesday, with The Nutcracker slated to hit the stage Dec. 19.

Patterned after the rather liberal adaptation of the Heinrich Heine poem by Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa, the National Ballet's version of the classic tragedy in two acts was choreographed by Peter Wright and designed by Desmond Heeley and has been a company staple virtually since it entered the repertoire in 1970. Happily, it seems to be a production burnished by age, rather than worn down by it, carried aloft as much by the timeless elegance of Heeley's ethereal designs as by the relish with which the entire company attacks the tale, unearthing a certain freshness in its well-worn and tragic contours.

It is the story of a careless nobleman, Albrecht (Guillaume Côté), who falls in love with the lovely peasant girl Giselle (Greta Hodgkinson) and sets out to woo her, disguised as a peasant lad. But the frail Giselle has already caught the eye of Hilarion, an honest forester (Piotr Stanczyk) who penetrates Albrecht's disguise and exposes him, driving Giselle to kill herself in a frenzy of despair. A heart-broken Albrecht does penance for his heartlessness at Giselle's grave, where he encounters the vengeful Wilis — a band of ghostly women led by their haughty Queen Myrtha (Heather Ogden) — who set out to kill him for his crime, only to be thwarted by the loving shade of the woman he misused.

From happy carefree beginning to tragic ending, it is a story that never seems to grow old in the retelling, its trajectory enriched at every turn by an enduring score composed by Adolphe Adam and served up here with fine fettle by the NBOC Orchestra under the baton of David Briskin.

And while many may see that ever-green quality as a tribute to the story itself, one is inclined, after careful viewing, to lay the success of this enduring production at the feet of dancers like its four principals — the equally ever-green Hodgkinson, tapping into her own private fountain of youth, teamed with the masterfully romantic Côté, backed by the impeccable artistry and commitment of Stanczyk and the icy precision of Ogden.

While it may be true that choreographer Wright and designer Healey conspired in GISELLE to create an antique jewel for the company, it is artists like this that renew it with their artistry and give it a contemporary sparkle.

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