‘Giselle’ a classic ballet for all time 

San Francisco Ballet’s current revival of “Giselle” is of a 12-year-old production, and it’s aging well. The performance by the Sunday matinee cast was a formidable presentation of one the greatest “white ballets” of all time.

The original 1841 Jean Coralli-Jules Perrot choreography, in Marius Petipa’s 1884 version, has survived all this time and is still produced today around the world. But San Francisco has something different.

Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s version, building on those predecessors and introduced here in 1999, was surprising at first with its lack of warmth, being more classical and rigid than romantic and lyrical.

This time, Act 1 has more immediacy and romance. Sarah Van Patten’s Giselle and Tiit Helimets’ Count Albrecht connected, with excellent dramatic presence.

Daniel Baker’s menacing bad-boy Hilarion contributed significantly to the theatrical aspect of the piece.

In the important Peasant Pas de Cinq, Isaac Hernandez and Lonnie Weeks were especially impressive.

Van Patten and Helimets built their dance performances steadily, peaking in Act 2. Van Patten’s Giselle is not the fragile, wan woman often often seen in the role; she does not hide the strength necessary to this challenging performance. Helimets’ bravura in the final pas de deux was outstanding.

Otherwise, Act 2 belongs to the corps de ballet, which was in rare form, and to Myrtha, Queen of the Willis, with a larger solo part than that of the two principals.

Frances Chung, a last-minute replacement for Elana Altman, made her unscheduled role debut as Myrtha, and this usually charming dancer succeeded as the icy, cruel queen ruling over the forest spirits.

The Australian Ballet’s Nicolette Fraillon led the orchestra in a solid performance of Adolphe Adam’s ever-memorable music, which reached a climax in the dramatic Act finale.

The production design by Mikael Melbye is effectively simple, especially the costumes, but the chintzy foliage seems worse than before.

Longtime ballet patrons used to seeing Molly Webster’s pair of magnificent Russian wolfhounds in the court’s entrance might have been concerned when only Meteor (the brighter white one) made a brief appearance, but during the intermission both made their way through the adoring audience in the lobby.

Coltie “didn’t feel quite well earlier,” according to Webster, and “Helgi thought he better not go on.”

It’s a rare artistic director who pays such attention to all the extras, even four-legged ones.




Presented by San Francisco Ballet

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

When: 8 p.m. today, Friday, Feb. 10 and Feb. 12; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 2 p.m. Feb. 12

Tickets: $30 to $265

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

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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