Last night, I was lucky enough to see Giselle, performed by the exquisite Paris Opera Ballet. It was certainly a treat, to say the least. But no matter who’s performing, I just love that ballet. It’s got one of the best stories—boy loves girl; girl meets another boy; girl falls in love; boy dupes girl; girl dies; girl joins band of zombie women who murder first boy; girl saves the second lying and cheating boy. I mean, does it get more twisted?
But by the end of the Peasant Pas de Deux my mind began to wander. We’re getting down to the wire before the Olympics, people, and I’m in competition mode. It’s USA vs. them. American Ballet Theatre performed Giselle this spring (not to mention all the other American companies that include it in their rep); who takes home the gold?
+1, France: One point to the Paris Opera for their hunky Hilarion, played by Yann Saïz. Wowza. This is not to say that ABT or NYCB are lacking good looking dancers in their rosters, but as my coworker put it, if Giselle had just chosen the better looking guy, the rest could have been avoided. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.
+2, USA: Miming. I don’t know what the heck anyone in the ballet was miming about last night. There was a lot of pointing and a lot of the “let’s dance” move…and that’s about it. The only mime I could understand was Hilarion’s—and he didn’t even do much, it was all in his eyes. But the nurse? Forget about it. Watching her big scene I could have sworn she acted out, “If you dance with boys, you will die.” I got nothing about a vision or Giselle’s weak heart. At one moment, she touched Giselle’s stomach. Was she pregnant? A hernia? We’ll never know. **
+1, France: Arabesque balances. Giselle, played by étoile Clairemarie Osta, performed the most astounding arabesques I’ve ever seen. (Her acting was pretty awesome, too; luckily none of it mime.) She looked as though she could perch up there for hours.
–1, France: Partnering. I’ve yet to see an American Albrecht almost drop Giselle. I’m looking at you, étoile Nicolas Le Riche.
–1, USA: Corps de ballet synchronization. France has us beat on this one. It may be that all the young women come from the same school and are thus more in sync, but their precise timing and uniformity of limbs was impeccable. Not one arabesque higher than the other, no arms out of place—they were truly a zombie army, the Willi version of the Rockettes.
+1, USA: Penché arabesques. I’m rooting for the showiness of a six o’clock penché—USA! USA! USA! Depending on which leg was in the air, the French Giselle and Myrtha reached about 6:13 or 5:48. They were beautiful nevertheless…but I want punctuality.
+1, USA: Diversity. This is a reach, because really, how diverse are these New York City-based ballet companies? If NYC is truly a melting pot of nationalities and cultures, you’d never know it from looking onstage. But I’ll hand it to the USA in comparison to the French.
–2, USA: Attendance. Sold out audiences for these Paris Opera Ballet shows. I understand it’s the first time the company has been here in 16 years; but where are all these patrons for a weeknight New York City Ballet performance? ABT drew big crowds for their Giselle, but when compelling new work is being presented—for either NY company—where are the people? I often attend the ballet on weeknights, and on any other Thursday night, there are MANY empty seats. So I’m taking away USA’s win for poor audience attendance and a lack of support for American artists. What makes the Paris Opera Ballet so special? Maybe the thought is we can always come back to see American companies, they’re based here and they’ll always be here. Well, I’ve got news: They can go away. Look at the many orchestras that have shut down as a result of poor audience attendance. It’s not just that the government doesn’t support the arts enough—it’s us not being as supportive as we can.
Guess it’s a draw. We can fix that.
**Mime is a HUGE part of Giselle. When Pacific Northwest Ballet used primary sources—that date back to 1841—to restage the Romantic ballet, it was not easy for the dancers. Click here to read about the reconstruction.
Photo of Paris Opera Ballet, Giselle, by Sébastien Mathé.