Ballet Nacional de Cuba danced "Giselle" at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
“Giselle” is one of the oldest surviving ballets. Dating back to 1841, not much predates it. And it remains, at least for me, the most romantic of Romantic ballets.
But often, productions can seem stale, quaint or just plain old-fashioned. This is not the case with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s rendering that was seen this week at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Everything about it -- the sets, the costumes and the dancing were impeccable. But what brought it to the level of undeniable beauty – was the choreography by Cuba’s iconic ballerina Alicia Alonso. A former member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, American Ballet Theatre and George Balanchine’s first New York troupe, American Ballet Caravan, Alonso learned from the best. And what she created in the second act – in which the vaporous Wilis devour men who betray them – was a scene of beauty and menace that is out of range for words.
Throughout her years as a dancer, Alonso was known for her Giselle – the delicate peasant girl who is wooed and falls for a handsome Royal, but dies when she learns he is engaged to another.
Alonso has clearly passed on her impassioned brilliance for the role to Grettel Morejon who portrayed the pretty innocent with heart-breaking fragility. Everyone in the seats truly believed she loves Albrecht; and Albrecht loves her. But when it is revealed that he is a duke, engaged to the glamorous Princess Bathilde, Giselle is shattered and dies.
The first act, in which we meet Giselle and her true love, starts as a happy one. It is harvest time and friends of Giselle are celebrating her betrothal. Hilarion, who is also in love with Giselle, is spoiling the levity by trying to insinuate himself between them. But nothing can dampen their joyous unity – until Albrecht’s deception is revealed.
The dancing was crisp and buoyant – a quartet of men showed the power of their Russian-based technique as they sprung straight in the air in hovering air splits. And the emotions, especially from Morejon, were delivered with convincing fervor.
The second act, however, demanded that the audience acknowledge Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s greatness and importance. The scenes with the Wilis – all in white with ankle-length tutus – extolled gorgeous precision and power. The band of 24 ghostly women hovered in the forest near Giselle’s grave. At first, they moved like a bouquet of crystal flowers rotating in the moonlight – a glowing, alluring vision.
Yet upon meeting Hilarion, who grieved at Giselle’s grave, they transformed into an army of single-minded steel, entrapping and killing him. Abrecht was next, but Giselle rose from her grave and begged the Wilis Queen, Myrtha, to let him pass unharmed.
As the Wilis dispersed, the duet with Morejon and Rafael Quenedit as Albrecht was sweet and touching. As the sun rose, Giselle slipped from his arms and melted back into her grave. Albrecht fell upon its bed, crushed with grief.