At San Francisco Ballet, Helgi Tomasson's production of "Giselle" is the perfect spectacle to close the season. This is romantic ballet to the nines. The set is a rustic village with two huts at either side. A castle on a hill in the far background, a big tree in the near background, and overhanging branches form sort of a proscenium arch. Albrecht, disguised as the peasant, Loys, makes a grand entrance. Giselle skitters across the stage, moves backwards, bumps into Loys, and is smitten. She's shy, and runs away. They pluck a daisy...she loves me, and they do a pas de deux, leaping around the stage, freezing momentarily at the top. Hilarion appears. He loves her, but she and Loys love each other. The men fight, sort of.

Giselle does a lively solo with a lot of jumps. It's soft, light, and fast. It's almost like a leit motif for her, because she does this similar dance to similar music nearly every time she appears even with the Wilis. She and Albrecht do a pas de deux. The corps rotate out from the center into two counter clockwise circles, hiding the couple. They spread out at the back revealing them in the center, and he lifts her triumphantly to his shoulder.

Albrecht's servant comes to him as Hilarion spys from behind the tree. The nobles file in, complete with two Russian wolfhounds. The costumes are bright and rich looking, in stark contrast to the peasants. Giselle does her frothy little signature dance with lots of lively little kicks. Bathilde is gracious, but always looks down at her. She gives her the necklace. The Pas de Cinq is spectacular with lifts, pirouettes, and port de bras. They do their three solos and one pas de deux, with some remarkable solos for the two men. Giselle turns, makes her way across the stage hopping on one leg on pointe, while kicking with the other. She lands, then pirouettes all the way across the stage in a spectacular sequence.

Eight men leap high, rolling over and beating their legs. They're joined by the corps. Hilarion bursts in with the sword, then blows Albrecht's horn. The nobles all drift in. Bathilde recognizes Albrecht, and goes to him. Giselle is crushed when he pushes her away. Joanna Berman's mad scene is riveting. She twists, kicks, and feints with sharp movements, then stabs herself. Yuri Possokhov responds in kind, first at Hilarion, then back to Giselle, then to the corps in general. He falls and clutches Giselle and is pulled off. Berman and Possokhov are absolutely on fire in this performance. This was her next to last performance before retiring at the end of the season, and there's an electricity between them that's passionate drama in the highest sense.

Nobody's better at moving large groups of people than Helgi Tomasson, and Act 2 is a tour de force. The stage is gnarled, old trees. Steam rises from the floor and there's a glow at the back. A group of men come in, and a Wili flies across the stage, through the air, scaring them off. The front trees roll away, and the Wilis rise from a kneeling position in the wings. Muriel Maffre is a commanding figure as their Queen Myrtha. She's totally in control as they surround her. She moves her arms like the conductor of an orchestra, and they rise up in waves, and back down.

Giselle is one of them, but not quite. She does her signature dance with short lively kicks and jumps. She's just died, and is still part of both worlds. Albrecht is alone, tormented at the center of the stage, kneeling with his head in his hands. Giselle dances around him. He finally sees her and they do a slow, passionate pas de deux and he lifts her high.

After they leave, Hilarion enters and the Wilis force him to dance. They seem to be pushing him as he gains speed. He spins and leaps, faster, and faster. Finally he falls at Myrtha's feet, and they carry him off and throw him in the lake. Next, they start on Albrecht, but Giselle intercedes. Joanna Berman may have the most expressive arm movements I've ever seen. She seems to be like a weightless marionette as he lifts her low. As dawn starts to break, the Wilis disappear, and Giselle fades back into the grave as Albrecht stretches out to her in the passionate climax to Helgi Tomasson's spectacular "Giselle" at The San Francisco Ballet.



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