Whatever the faults of Canadian Pacific Ballet's new production of Giselle, most would be solvable with a bigger budget. More dancers and a live orchestra would have given the fledgling company the tools to create the magic we expect from the most tragic of the romantic ballets.
That said, co-artistic director Roberta Taylor did considerable research and showed ingenuity in the ambitious staging of a full version of Giselle - more than two hours of it. She and co-artistic director Graham McMonagle mount four productions a year, dedicating themselves to preserving the classical ballet tradition. (For a city its size, Victoria is remarkably rich in dance, with two ballet companies and an outstanding contemporary dance series that brings in shows from all over North America.)
Giselle is a fantasy that calls for lightning movement and a lightness of being. In this production, performed amid smaller-than-life painted sets, the dancers appeared large and ungainly - not a desirable effect. The first act, in which Giselle, a charming peasant girl, falls in love with Albrecht, a duke disguised as a peasant, is meant to project a real-life earthiness. But in this instance, the layered, solid-coloured peasant dresses gave too heavy a look. And the recorded score's tinny sound didn't transport us to a fairy-tale world the way live music would.
Ashley Evans made an affecting Giselle. At times she danced very well; at other junctures, she acted quite convincingly. Rarely did she manage both at once. As the passionate girl with the weak heart, Evans seemed tentative, until the death scene after she learns of Albrecht's deception. Grasping the full significance of her suitor's betrayal - he is already betrothed to another - this Giselle delivered a death scene worthy of Grey's Anatomy.
Graham McMonagle was every bit the aristocrat, a towering Albrecht who had to lower his head upon entering or exiting through the door of his hunting shack. McMonagle brought a good deal of playfulness, even seductiveness to his role. He didn't have the lift of a shorter, more typical Albrecht, but he did have stage presence. A little less pathos would have make him more credible. Ian Szkolak danced a solo as a peasant boy that was very impressive.
Adolphe Adam's romantic composition, full of sturm und drang, pretty much tells the story of a girl who died of a broken heart, as does the choreography. Nevertheless, these dancers had to act as if they were in a silent movie, sometimes mouthing words as they mimed their way through the plot. No one was more guilty of hamming it up than Scott Vannan, in the part of a portly Hilarion, the gamekeeper who claims Giselle for himself. He earned a few unwanted laughs from the audience.
Where Evans's fouettés in Act 1 were a bit sluggish, she picked up speed as a Willi in Act 2. Frail in life, she appeared to gain strength in death. Evans and McMonagle pulled off the grand pas de deux in the second act with poignancy.
The Willis - vampirish females, disappointed in love - are ghostly brides who force their male victims to dance to the death. Ursula Szkolak as Myrtha, Queen of the Willis, was not so much menacing as commanding, as she condemned Albrecht to his fate. These Willis didn't do ethereal very well. Some of them landed with a very un-wraithlike thud and they looked like javelin throwers when they are supposed to resemble creatures hovering in the mist.
Still, this Giselle is a keeper, and Canadian Pacific Ballet will make it better with repeat performances.
- The Canadian Pacific Ballet
- At the McPherson Playhouse
- In Victoria Sept. 25-26
Special to The Globe and Mail