Sylvie Guillem - Giselle
- La Scala Ballet - Royal Opera House - Covent Garden
You can imagine how thrilled
I was on Monday 6 August 2001 when
I went to the premiere of La Scala
Ballet (its first time at the Royal
Opera House). Just the opportunity
to go there was emotional for me and
to be able see the world's greatest
ballerina Sylvie Guillem dancing the
most famous and sublime ballet Giselle
was excitable beyond words.
Giselle is the most celebrated ballet
of the Romantic era, created by the
poet Theophile Gautier (1811-72).
It premiered at the Paris Opera on
28 June 1841, was choreographed by
Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot (the
master choreographer), and the first
role of Giselle was played by Carlota
Grissi (1811-72), with Lucien Petipa
(1815-98) as Albrecht (Massimo Murru
played this role in tonight's production).
Then Jules Perrot went to St. Petersburg
as the ballet-master and had a production
of Giselle for Gristi and his assistant
at the time (Marius Petipa - the brother
of Lucien) played Albrecht. Giselle
remained in the repertoire of St Petersburg
for 40 years. In Europe, Giselle was
rediscovered in 1910 when Diaghilev
presented it in his second Paris season
with Tamara Karsaina and Vaslav Nijinsky.
The music was composed by Adolphe
Adam (1803-1853); the original manuscript
is kept at the Bibliotheque National
in Paris. The present version is as
near as possible to the version of
150 years ago, with the Royal Ballet
Symphony conducted by David Garforth
in his own arrangement.
The story is of a young girl in love
with Albrecht, the young Duke of Silesia.
Giselle loves him as much as she loves
to dance; she does not know who he
is but Hilarion knows and is in love
with Giselle and warns Giselle against
Albrecht. Giselle believes in his
devotion to her but he has to marry
the heiress Bathilde, daughter of
the Prince de Courlande. Giselle dies
of heartbreak. Albrecht is full of
sorrow and wanders in the forest.
Giselle appears before him but her
"shadow" disappears and
leaving Albrecht alive and alone and
Paul Brown designed both the sets
and costumes, the action taking place
probably around 100 years ago. The
set is very minimalist with a huge
plain-grey wall with door moving the
location around and later opening
into a large hall. This revolving
wall divides the rural poor from the
privileged rich. Like in an Italian
village circa 1900 Giselle wears a
grey and brown workaday dress and
cardigan like a rural girl in modern
French cinema. The villagers consist
of a drunk, an idiot, pious humbugs,
laundresses, and street musicians.
The grape harvest is vigorously enacted.
For the first Act, I followed Guillem's
choreography, as there was very little
dance. In Act II, the Wilis (spirits)
were in designer gowns.
Sylvie Guillem the French Ballerina
says, "To rediscover the real
Giselle, to make the blood flow in
the veins of the various characters.
"She had asked her dancers to
approach the characters not only as
dancers but also as actors. Giselle
is the greatest classical role and
she dances it with passionate relish.
She was asked by the National Ballet
of Finland to mount Giselle and the
production had its premiere in Helsinki
two years ago. Then it was produced
in January 2001 at the Chatelet where
Guillem was acting as player-manager
in ballet. The current production
was first performed at La Scala, Milan
on 22 June 2000. Afterwards they toured
America and now the production is
at ROH. Of course she is the star!She
joined the Paris Opera Ballet in 1981
at 16 years of the age and in 1984
the director of the ROB recognised
her genius and appointed her as premiere
danseuse; five days later she made
her debut as Odette/Odile in Swan
Lake. She became an etoile at the
age of 19, which made her the youngest
dancer to receive this title. The
director was Rodolf Nureyev. She left
the ROB after five years at 23 because
he refused to let her make guest appearances
with other companies. She had famous
spats with her mentor Nureyev. She
says of the spats, "I could recognise
someone exceptional but I wouldn't
let him do exactly what he wanted.
I had something to say and I had my
bad way of doing it and he had his
bad way of doing it also, so that's
why we had a lot of problems. "
Nureyev adored Sylvie and although
they had a difficult relationship
sometimes she said it was a pleasure
to be with him. She added, "Sometimes".
She then joined the Royal Ballet in
London which she in turn also had
difficulties. She did not get on well
with Kenneth MacMillan, the Royal
choreographer and residence eminence
grise, but even so, some of her best
performances were done with him despite
the fact that they had fallen out.
She has a very difficult reputation;
she took ages to learn to state her
case without screaming. (How I understand
her!!). She was born in Paris, brought
up in the 11th arrondissement, one
of the working-class districts on
the periphery of the city. Her father
was a garage mechanic and her mother
taught gymnastics to children. She
was invited to try ballet. She says,
"I don't really want to be a
dancer. I didn't really want to be
a part of this world. Then I started
to discover that it was not so bad
and there was something about it that
could interest me and that's why I
decided to stay. You go on stage and
it's like showing yourself naked.
Even if it's behind a character, you
put so much of yourself into it. You
give blood to the character - if I
were her, I would do this. "For
the past 15 years she has taken class
every morning at the same time, repeating
the same movements. She is 35 and
she has ho plans for children in the
next 10 years and she has asked her
friends, "If you see me going
downhill, you tell me or you shoot
me. Don't let me go on like that.
Please. " Like Nureyev, he continued
until it was embarrassing to see him
on stage. She said, "For sure,
he was not dancing well at all when
I was dancing with him. But you could
see the kind of animal he was, the
density, the power. "She also
said, "I'm sure it's going to
be difficult. I have no solution yet,
unfortunately. It's a big part of
my life, so when I leave all that
it will hurt, it will be very painful.
And also the emotion on stage is so
strong. You wonder where you are going
to find this level of emotion. Where?
How? So when I give up, I don't know
if I am going to be happy for a long
time. Maybe if you can find another
passion, you dive in and you are saved.
But then it's like getting old: you
accept it and live very nicely or
you don't live nicely at all. That's
the kind of mentality I have to acquire.
Her own version of Giselle is the
reason why La Scala Ballet was invited
to London. Her name is a guarantee
for ticket sales as Nureyev's name
used to be. After the premiere of
the Finnish National Ballet in 1998
she re-worked the choreography of
Giselle for La Scala and it is superlative
the way she dances Giselle. Giselle
is a high-spirited girl in a plain
blue dress, her hair in a long pigtail.
This is a cinematic production trying
to integrate Giselle in her society
as a peasant and as a supernatural
wili. Giselle's mad scene is shocking,
the ending is really magical as she
evaporates with the dawn.
Guilem prefers the way she is now,
the intensity. "Older is better.
You have experiences, and you want
to live all the minutes". Glorious
Guillem! She was greeted with the
rest of the Ballet La Scala, with
a great roar from the audience. She
delivered everything you expect from
her - as both producer and performer;
Giselle is one Guillem's finest roles.
I am such a huge fan. I love her self-portrait
- where she is walking on air and
her honed body defines gravity. In
the Rolex watch portrait she is showing
the ballet position for six o'clock.
Her Rolex, however, calls it five
fifty-eight and seventeen seconds
It was in Italy that ballet began
- in the Renaissance courts, which
became the homes of treatise writers
and masters of dance. In the early
16th century Pompeo Diobono founded
a School of Ballo Nobile in Milan.
There he taught many of the dancers
and choreographers who subsequently
spread the name of Italian dance throughout
Europe. The company has one of the
world's richest repertoires of classical
and modern ballet and it is to this
that La Scala is honoured to welcome
Sylvie Guillem's new production of
I was trying to do the 6 0'clock exercise
but didn't manage past 5:30. So you
know my age darlings!