By Ryan Wallace
As a romantic ballet, Giselle highlights the power of ballerinas and pointework on what appears to be an endless stage. But in this weekend’s Segerstrom performance, it was leading man Roberto Bolle that had audiences swooning for more.
This weekend when the Teatro Alla Scala Ballet came to town, Los Angeles and the OC had high expectations for their interpretation of a classic—Giselle. Audiences were eager to see stars like Misty Copeland and Roberto Bolle share the stage, and the show opened Friday night to thunderous applause. And by the time the show ended for our performance Saturday night, I knew exactly what all the hype was for.
Missing opening night for one of your favorites can be a drag, especially for such a brief weekend tour. But if there’s anything that I’ve come to expect from the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, it’s that they can always be counted on to put on a good show! Saturday we arrived for the evening performance and expected to see the usuals, however, that night there was something different about the crowd. Everyone looked the same, dressed to the nines in their theater-best, but there was an electric excitement amongst the audience. People were beaming, applauding, shouting and cheering even before the dancers had hit the stage. And while this energy is normal for occult hits and broadway shows, it’s quite a thing to see for a 176-year-old ballet.
But Giselle is a favorite for a reason. The ballet denotes a new and brief era in dance known as “Romantic Ballet” because it is imbued with the ideas, art and literature of 19th century Romanticism. Stylistically these dances were different because they highlighted the arrival of pointework, which audiences have come to know and love. And since it originally premiered in 1841, each generation of ballerinas has improved and left their impression on the ballet.
“Romantic ballets were created to produce sheer enchantment—they [have the power to] transport their audiences” dance historian and author, Elizabeth Kaye says. “Because of the pointe shoe, Romantic ballets place their emphasis on footwork and the romantic tutu is built to coax the eyes of the viewer to the feet. The idea is to sort of shadowbox the foot so that your eyes are drawn to this new and wonderful footwork.”
Act I opened the show, and though the energy on the stage did not meet that in crowd, audiences were swept away by a tumultuous story of love, a beautiful score, and choreography that told the story well. Still, by the time that intermission arrived I found myself thinking that the choreography and the ballerinas were more grounded than I expected. For a ballet that blends styles à terre and en l’air, I found that the story took hold of Act I and that the dance came second. But I was already captivated by the technique of Roberto Bolle and the undeniable grace of Marianela Nuñez, who played Giselle. Though this was their first time dancing Giselle together, the pair had chemistry, and whenever Roberto Bolle took to the stage, it was like the rest of the world faded away.
“Though they have both danced Giselle countless times, this engagement marks the first time that they will have danced it together” Kaye says.
Improving tremendously as the night went on, Act II was stunning as the company hit every mark. Leaps were higher, the pointework was sharp, and every turn was flawlessly executed as the combined force of 30 ballerinas took to the stage. And even though they weren’t the most silent spirits that we have ever heard, we were left haunted by the stunning choreography and high caliber of talent amidst the corps de ballet. Thematically the story was darker after Giselle’s death, but Nuñez and Bolle shined even brighter than ever before. And by the time the curtain closed everyone was already talking about the leading man who brought a true prince to life—and it wasn’t just Giselle who fell for Bolle’s charm.