Los Angeles Ballet bringing a youthful 'Giselle' to three Southern California theaters
Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary, co-artistic directors of the Los Angeles Ballet, talked in a recent interview like proud parents about their young dancers in the company's production of "Giselle," which opens Saturday at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. The pair, once praised dancers themselves, stressed that the L.A. Ballet dancers' inexperience in the famous roles of innocent farm girl Giselle and duplicitous nobleman Albrecht, will be the key to the production's success.
"They're not taking somebody else's view of the roles from Bolshoi or wherever," Neary said. "They're just doing their thing. So it's so refreshing to see, I have to say."
Although the co-directors didn't mention Mikhail Baryshnikov, their approach to "Giselle," emphasizing the main characters' youth and freshness, seemed to mirror the great Russian dancer's conviction that expressing innocence was indeed the way to tap the romance and tragic love at the heart of the 1841 ballet. Baryshnikov first performed Albrecht -- a duke who disguises himself as a peasant to win Giselle's affection, even though he is engaged to a princess -- with the Kirov Ballet in 1972. His performance, a break from stodgy tradition, or that's how he saw it, created a sensation in the dance world.
In his 1976 book, "Baryshnikov at Work," in which he discussed his approach to roles in ballet's renowned works, Baryshnikov explained that Albrecht had traditionally been interpreted as a cad who dupes Giselle. "His social position and noble bearing are the most important aspects in the standard interpretation of the role," he said.
But that wasn't how Baryshnikov saw it. "For me Albrecht is so in love with Giselle that his love is his undoing," he said. "This love is so true, so perfect, that he doesn’t want to jeopardize it by revealing his true identity. It is the honesty of his feelings that leads him to his dishonesty." Baryshnikov concluded, "I want the audience to know that Albrecht is innocent: not that he's responsible for what occurs, but that his motives are pure."
It will be fascinating to see the Albrecht and Giselle that the young L.A. Ballet dancers bring to the stage, in performances at Redondo Beach, Glendale and Santa Monica.
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-- Kevin Berger
Photo: Artistic Director Thordal Christensen works with dancers Allyssa Bross (Giselle) and Christopher Revels (Albrecht) at a rehearsal. Credit: Christina House / For The TImes