SF Ballet’s ‘Giselle’ could use more drama 

click to enlarge Giselle
  • Yuan Yuan Tan danced the title role in the San Francisco Ballet’s season-opening production of “Giselle.”
The San Francisco Ballet opened its 81st season with “Giselle,” a nearly 200-year-old work often considered ballet’s “Hamlet.” Yet the drama in artistic director Helgi Tomasson’s production took second place on Saturday night at the War Memorial Opera House, despite some high points and a poised Yuan Yuan Tan in the title role.

The work in itself is bipolar. The first act begins with two lovers prancing around a sunny village and ends with betrayal, a psychotic meltdown and Giselle’s death; Act 2 is danced at her gravesite.

While famous for Giselle’s mad scene, the ballet requires theatrical tenacity in the male roles, too. On opening night, Davit Karapetyan’s Prince Albrecht ranged from stiff to hammy to negligent, such as when he thoughtlessly dropped his cape on Giselle’s grave, as if he were plopping a soda can in the trash. Albrecht should be an irresistible, grade-A flirt in the first act, but Karapetyan was more “Nutcracker” cavalier than a thespian.

Tan’s most touching dramatic moment was drowned out. When Giselle discovered Albrecht’s betrayal, her body caved slightly and her spine curled inward, a narration for a heart sinking. Yet the lights did not highlight her and the stage bustled with Albrecht’s drama. She deserves better framing.

Choreographically, “Giselle” is unique, particularly for its sublime capacity to convey the sense of flight — something even “Swan Lake” fails to achieve to the same degree. “Giselle” is flooded with petite allegro (i.e., little jumps) and moments of exquisite partnering. On Saturday, Tan appeared weightless in spirit form as a ghostlike Wili in the second act. When Albrecht first senses Giselle’s presence in the Wili woods, and when he said goodbye, their bodies repelled, like magnets of the same polarity.

Ruben Martin Cintas was a passionate gangster as Hilarion, the peasant who outs Albrecht for his engagement to a noblewoman. Hilarion’s dance to the death in the second act can be a virtuoso display, but this production’s choreography is pedestrian. A dynamic update would do better justice to excellent dancers such as Martin Cintas.

The pantomime in the first act lacked definition, only muddily communicating Albrecht’s nobility. The royal hunting party was rather casual as it took the stage, falcons and dogs in tow. Sofiane Sylve was a fierce Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, steering her minions well, and the corps exquisitely precise as the Wilis. Dores Andre and Sasha De Sola were exemplary Wili soloists.



Presented by the San Francisco Ballet

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. today, Thursday-Friday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $40 to $340

Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org

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Lauren Gallagher

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