The National Ballet of Canada
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
June 15, 2016
By Denise Sum
copyright © 2016 by Denise Sum
There are few ballets as enduring as "Giselle". This recent inspired performance from the National Ballet of Canada proved that even 175 years after its premiere, this Romantic era classic still has tremendous power to stir the hearts of dancers and ballet goers alike. The enduring story of love, betrayal, and redemption is artfully told in this production by Sir Peter Wright. The contrast between the earthly and vibrant first act and the haunting and spiritual second act creates a sense of wholeness in this ballet -- a sort of yin and yang. "Giselle" is also at its core a ballet about dancing itself. Dance is presented in turn as an expression of joy and danger. This opening night truly belonged to the leading dancers, Svetlana Lunkina and Harrison James, who was recently promoted to principal dancer. Together their performance was a tour de force of spirited dancing and impressive dramatic skill. The performance was dedicated in memory of the production's set and costume designer, Desmond Heeley, who passed away just days prior.
Svetlana Lunkina and Harrison James in "Le Petit Prince". Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.
Both Lunkina and James have danced these leading roles before (at the Bolshoi Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet, respectively) but this marked their company debut. Theirs is not the most obvious pairing, but their partnership worked. They moved well together and had a clear connection throughout. Their carefree jumps and skyward gazes in the village scenes captured the euphoria of young love that can defy reason. James' Albrecht knows he is obligated to marry Bathilde and yet he cannot stop himself from pursuing Giselle. There is an immature impulsiveness that comes across in his interpretation. Lunkina's Giselle is similarly youthful and naive. She wears a mischievous expression as she tries to tease or trick Albrecht with innocent, playful games. She gazes longingly at him while she pretends to evade him. Her Giselle is fragile and delicate, a mismatch to Hilarion's brusque manner. As Hilarion, Piotr Stanczyk, is intent on possessing Giselle and fails to respond to her cues. In one instance, trying to separate her from Albrecht, he grabs her by the wrist. She is stunned and clutches her wrist protectively for several moments afterwards. When Hilarion later reveals Albrecht's true identity and Giselle literally crumbles, Albrecht is faced with the gravity of what he has done, albeit unintentionally. Here, James appeared genuinely stunned and remorseful. Lunkina's mad scene was harrowing. She oscillated between unsettling motionlessness and frantic darting across the stage before unequivocally stabbing herself.
The second act was magical from the corps de ballet's strong and unified dancing to Albrecht's ultimate redemption by Giselle's grace and forgiveness. James excelled here. He has beautiful ballon and crisp batterie along with easy, unaffected port de bras that lend themselves well to the challenging choreography. Lunkina was otherworldly, floating through the entire act. She filled each bar of music in a slow and intentional way, to the point that time itself seemed to stand still. It is hard to imagine a dancer with a more controlled execution of adagio phrases. While vulnerable and soft, she also demonstrated an inner fortitude that in turn, gave Albrecht strength to dance until morning.
As Myrtha, Heather Ogden was cool, regal, and unrelenting. She made one wonder how badly she had been spurned in order to become so vengeful. The weakest link in the performance was a shaky peasant pas de quatre, due to partnering issues. Corps de ballet member Donald Thom had difficulty keeping Tina Pereira on her leg on multiple occasions. Luckily, Pereira is very strong and could practically partner herself, but the stiffness between them was visible. Jenna Savella had remarkable height on her jumps in her variation, but also had some minor wobbles with her partner, Laurynas Vejalis. Otherwise, this was a very strong performance and both Lunkina and James impressed with exquisite interpretations of the ill-fated lovers.
Heather Ogden with Artists of the Ballet in Giselle. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.