When one sees a new production of a major full length ballet choreographed by Helgi Tomasson, the expectations are very high. The San Francisco Ballet's new "Giselle" surpasses them all. This is a romantic story of unfulfilled love. Giselle is a peasant girl with a weak heart who loves to dance. She and Count Albrecht, who is disguised as a peasant, fall in love. The gamekeeper, Hilarion is also in love with Giselle. We open in the clearing of a wooded area. There's a hut on the right side of the stage, a cottage on the left, and a big tree at the back of the clearing. A landscape stretches toward the back with a hill and castle on top. There are beautiful period costumes for the opening peasant ensemble. and throughout. Giselle appears in a door way, and flies delicately around the stage. She's joined by Albrecht for a pas de deux. Albrecht is confronted by Hilarion, who brandishes a knife, and is then chased off. Another ensemble is like a pinwheel. The dancers move from back to front and out from the center, while Albrecht lifts Giselle high. She hides back to back with Albrecht, but is found out and admonished by her mother. She fears Giselle will die and join the Wilis, and spend eternity dancing. There's a scintillating peasant pas de cinq with three girls and two guys. They each do solos, with the men doing high jumps, kicks, and scissors. The three girls spin back, while the two guys spin forward. The royal hunting party enters with two Russian wolf hounds. Giselle dances for Bathilde, the Duke's daughter, who is the fiance to Albrecht. Bathilde gives her a necklace and Giselle is thrilled, and shows it around. Tina LeBlanc is a stupendous Giselle. She breaks into absolutely joyful dance at any provocation. She's as good an actress as any ballerina. She has an enthusiasm that infects everyone around. Every movement has as elegance and grace that is completely natural. You have the feeling that she even moves like this when she does housework, or walks down the street. She's lighter than air and flighty, but has perfect control of every muscle as she flutters and spins.
The second act opens with a line of gnarled old tree branches across the front of the stage. There's a steaming lake at the back. Some men with lanterns are seen behind the trees, and a flying woman scatters them. The trees roll away to form a wooded clearing. The Queen of the Wilis floats across the stage. She returns to do a delicately ethereal dance, on pointe, where she extends one leg and traces circles in the air. Sherri LeBlanc is a tall and stately Myrtha, while sister Tina is a spritely, bouncy Giselle. The other Wilis form two groups of two lines each in the shape of a "V." They do side to side kicks in unison, before dropping down at the foot of their Queen. They rise up and do a wave around her. When they disperse, she pulls Giselle up, and she starts dancing and spinning like a top. She does a delicately precise minuet with Albrecht. Meanwhile Hilarion gets cornered by the Wilis. They toss him around while they encircle him. He jumps and kicks until they push him into the lake. Giselle and Albrecht plead with the Queen for his life, to no avail. Giselle does an absolutely scintillating solo. She jumps and kicks like a pogo stick. Tina LeBlanc has amazing control, and strength in her feet. As her legs fly left, right, two or three kicks in each direction, then leaps around on pointe. Roman Rykine's Albrecht is stamina personified. This is relentless athleticism as he leaps, kicks, does scissors kicks as he flys around the stage.
With Helgi Tomasson's choreography, the ensemble pieces dazzle like nobody else. "Giselle" is no exception. He has large groups of dancers that separate into two groups of 12 or so and move in circles from back to front, center out moving clockwise and counter clockwise against each other. It creates an effect of exquisitely layered precision. With the Wilis he has two large groups that move from the outside to the center. They're all in white dresses. They put one leg up, lean their bodies forward, with arms extended and come together, then move from the center out. The Wilis are similar to the swans in "Swan Lake." The San Francisco Ballet's tremendous new production of "Giselle" comes to the Orange County Performing Arts Center in October. The Ballet's Repertory season continues at the War Memorial Opera House through May 9.