By Taylor Hartz
October 19, 2017
The Joffrey Ballet opened its 2017-2018 season on Wednesday evening with a performance of Lola de Ávila’s Giselle at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University.
Giselle is a gripping performance of love and heartbreak that is enchanting, romantic, and later, haunting.
The ballet follows the tale of a young peasant woman named Giselle, living in a charming village in the medieval ages. Light on her feet in a powder blue dress, ballerina Victoria Jaiani, of Tbilisi, Georgia, appears as a carefree young woman head over heels for a strong, affectionate character of Duke Albrecht danced by Temur Suluashvili.
With an orchestra that alternates between fast tempo, upbeat numbers for cheery ensemble dances, to dark, dramatic notes as the story turns dark, it is easy to follow the story of Giselle and her lover with Adolphe Adam’s music, conducted by Scott Speck.
Viewers watch Giselle’s world crumble when a trumpeted announcement brings new characters to the stage. The audience learns with Giselle that Albrecht is betrothed to a foreign royal visitor, and it is nearly painful to watch Jaiani’s portrayal of anguish and madness as she dies of grief.
The ballet’s first act ends with Giselle’s collapse on the stage, as a communal mourning of her loss takes place amongst the villagers. Jaiani is as graceful as she is expressive, portraying her character’s heartbreak and despair through her emotional facial movements and dramatic body language.
When the curtain rises on the second act the cheery, autumnal village has been replaced by an eerie wooded scene. Smoke rises off the stage and rolls toward the audience as Albrecht lays in mourning at Giselle’s gravesite.
The true beauty of this ballet reveals itself when a veiled ballerina in a white gown passes quickly through the background. Then, a chorus of ballerinas, looking at once morbid and bridal in black to white ombre costumes, gather on stage for a series of perfectly in sync numbers that brought the audience to applause in the middle of scenes.
At first, Giselle’s gravesite sits undisturbed in the background of the scene, perpetuating the somber, mysterious setting. Giselle soon rises from her grave in a stark white dress that contrasts sharply against the twilight background, setting her apart from the other ghosts.
The audience soon learns that the ghostly women are deceased maidens in the vengeful Wilis army, who dance to death any man who crosses their path. When Giselle joins them, she regains her strength and love fueled passion when she protects Albrecht from the dead army.
While their love story is a beautiful sight to see unfold on stage, the costumes and scenery in the second act – designed by Peter Farmer – are entrancing. Giselle, together with the female ensemble, move so seamlessly across the stage that they begin to look like one enchanting mass of white veils. The only distraction from the beautiful sight is the footwork of the ballerinas, so impressive that audible gasps could be heard throughout the theater.
The show opened with recognition of Creative Director Ashley Wheater, who is celebrating his 10th anniversary with the Joffrey Ballet. Giselle runs through Oct. 29 at the Auditorium Theater. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.joffrey.org/giselle