In the latest global screening of productions direct from the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, the Bolshoi Ballet presents a new staging of one of the best-loved works in the classical repertoire – Giselle. This new – and “exquisitely faceted recreation” (The New York Times) – is the work of internationally renowned choreographer Alexei Ratmansky.
Regarded as the most famous of the Romantic era ballets, Giselle came about through the collaboration of three French artists – Ballet Masters Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli, and composer Adolphe Adam. The libretto was written by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier, who drew inspiration came from two sources – a passage in prose entitled L’Allemagne by German poet, writer and literary critic Heinrich Heine, and the poem Fantômes from Victor Hugo’s Les Orientales.
At the time, the Paris Opéra Ballet was keen to feature a new Italian dancer, Carlotta Grisi, in a work as soon as possible, so the ballet was commissioned, the librettists set to work, and the choreographers produced a truly lovely ballet, set to Adam’s utterly gorgeous score. Giselle, starring Carlotta Grisi, premiered at the Paris Opéra on 28th June, 1841.
The story of Giselle tells of a frail young peasant girl who is betrayed by her beloved, the aristocratic Count Albrecht, and who dies of a broken heart. She finds herself in a moonlit glade surrounded by supernatural spirits called Wilis – maidens who had all died before their wedding night – and their queen, Myrtha. Albrecht enters the glade to lay flowers on Giselle’s grave, and is summoned by Myrtha and her Wilis to dance until his death. Giselle – ever forgiving, and touched by his exhaustion – eventually pleads for mercy for him, and the Wilis ultimately allow him to leave the forest.
Alexei Ratmansky is regarded as one of the world’s foremost choreographers, whose works are featured in the repertoire of some of the world’s finest ballet companies. A graduate of the Bolshoi Ballet School, he is a former dancer with the National Opera in Ukraine, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Canada, and the Royal Danish Ballet. He was appointed artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet in 2004, and credited with reinstating the company to its international status following a number of difficult years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Multi-award-winning Ratmansky is also a Knight of the Order of the Danish Flag, an Honoured Artist of Ukraine, winner of the Diaghilev Competition in Moscow, and a MacArthur Foundation Fellow. He is currently the first artist-in-residence at American Ballet Theatre.
The role of Giselle is danced by Olga Smirnova, a prima ballerina of the Bolshoi with an impressive list of awards to her name. She has been with the company all her professional life, but has also toured widely with the Bolshoi, and guested with internationally renowned ballet companies such as Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, the American Ballet Theatre, the Mariinsky Theatre, the Wiener Staatsballett, and the Hamburg Ballett John Neumeier. Her favourite roles include the title role in Anna Karenina, Tatiana in Onegin, Marguerite in Lady of the Camellias, as well as the classics such as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, Giselle, and Nikiya in La Bayadere.
Artemy Belyakov, who dances Count Albrecht, graduated from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in 2010, since when he has acquired a vast repertoire of roles in works from the classics to the contemporary. The most recent of these include Prince Desire in The Sleeping Beauty, a soloist in Balanchine’s Symphony in C, Frantz in Coppélia, Vronsky in Anna Karenina and Romeo in Ratmansky’s Romeo and Juliet. On tour he has appeared in Chelyabinsk, Yehaterinburg – where he appeared in his own creation Sospiri set to the music of Sir Edward Elgar – in Sofia and Bashkir.
The Bolshoi Ballet presents Giselle in a live transmission – distributed by Pathé Live – to cinemas around the world on Sunday, 26th January. To find your nearest cinema, visit https://www.bolshoiballetincinema.com/
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