Sunday, October 01, 2023 | Rabi' al-awwal 15, 1445 H
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Why Giselle and the dance of the Wilis must make a repeat performance at ROHM


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I wish you have seen it — how the principal dancers Rebecca Bianchi and Alessio Rezza executed so well one of the most technical parts of the beautiful classic ballet Giselle performed last weekend at the Royal Opera House Muscat.

There are many things to compliment about the Thursday performance, but it was in the second act that the real strength of the dancers was fully manifested. Created to demonstrate ethereal movements in an eerie atmosphere, Bianchi and Rezza breeze through the challenging routines, creating the required sense of weightlessness and other-worldliness demanded by the performance. For the audience, the second act was like watching a leaf gently floating in the air, and top it off with intricate group choreography, I didn’t expect the eerie formations of the Wilis to become a ballet favourite.

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Giselle is a tragic love story of hauntingly beautiful music and equally challenging choreography, first performed in Paris in 1841. It follows the story of the eponymous character Giselle, a peasant girl who lives in the middle of the forest and falls in love with a nobleman, Albrecht, who disguises himself as a commoner. When Giselle discovered her lover’s secret and that he was engaged to be married to another woman, she went mad and died of a broken heart, only to dwell with the Wilis — vengeful spirits who seek to punish men for their sins.

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The ballet requires the dancers to have a high degree of technical talent, especially during the difficult footwork and delicate jumps of the first act. The pas de deux between Giselle and her lover, Albrecht, is one of the most iconic and challenging in ballet, requiring both partners to display a range of emotions and convey the intense chemistry between them. Overall, the choreography of Giselle is a true testament to the technical and artistic capabilities of ballet dancers.

The Teatro Dell’Opera di Roma Ballet, where the performers are trained, just showcased that, since its creation in 1928, it has remained committed to executing the best productions and till this day, staged some of the greatest traditional ballets.

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There was nothing to complain about on the technical side of the dances. Helmed by Carla Fracci, one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century as a choreographer, and working alongside equally talented Julio Bocca and Gillian Whittingham as revival choreographers, they were successful in recreating this masterpiece of the ballet repertoire and have done an amazing job in exploring the themes of love, betrayal, forgiveness, and redemption — all conveyed through the movement of the dancers.

Having watched several of the performances this season, the stage design and costumes created by Anna Anni are this season’s to beat. It just proves why, to this day, she remains an undisputed star of the theatre scene, and the way she puts thought into everything reveals the wealth of knowledge she has of what it takes to impress an audience. The forest village was almost Ghibliesque and Disneyfied, so that even younger viewers would automatically connect with it. In contrast, the second act’s haunting forest created the right atmosphere to make the vengeful spirit in white stand out.

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While overall the production deserved the 10-minute standing ovation it got, there is one area I think it can greatly improve on. At the end of Act 1, right before the curtain closed and in a crucial moment of the main character’s death, it was anti-climactic that the light didn’t change and the spotlight didn’t zoom in on the dying character. The lighting remained the same — yellowish, homey, and comforting enough that I didn’t really feel the tension of impending death. There was also no emphasis on the character or the emotions she was going through, and with the whole village showing a different range of emotions, the performance of the principal dancer got lost in the noise. This was carried on in some parts of Act 2 but thankfully things started to pick up and get more refined until the performance ended.

A big congratulations have to be extended to conductor Sergey Smbatyan and the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra. It is for their professionalism and refined training that we were able to experience a range of emotions making the Giselle performance in Oman truly worth watching and a repeat.

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