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 very sad.

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 precisely.

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 Giselle.

I was trying to do the 6 0'clock exercise but didn't manage past 5:30. So you know my age darlings!

Verinha Ottoni


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