The Sarasota Ballet’s production of Sir Peter Wright’s “Giselle,” staged by Margaret Barbieri, was carried by the expertise of its two guest stars, internationally acclaimed Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg, this past weekend, at the Sarasota Opera House.
“Giselle” is one of the all-time classic story ballets and revered as one of the most technically difficult to perform. The role of “Giselle” often creates ballerinas, not only with its choreographic challenges, but also the emotional depth that is required. Cojocaru is one of these “Giselle”-created ballerinas, having been promoted to principal ballerina at The Royal Ballet in 2001 after her performance of the role. It was only fitting for her to appear as the Sarasota Ballet’s Giselle with her regal dance partner, Kobborg, also a principal at The Royal Ballet.
Immediately charming the audience with her girlish nature as a peasant girl in Act I, Cojocaru amplified her exemplary technique with her personality and shined with high-kicking temps de flèche and ballottés that ended in plié arabesques that reached almost 180 degrees. Finishing off her already impressive lines were Cojocaru’s gorgeous feet, which seemed to point for miles. Most notable was the fact that she finished every step or sequence in a perfect fifth position — a true sign of a ballerina. Cojocaru kept up with Kobborg with a grand jeté manèges in which both looked as light as air.
A highlight in Act I was the Peasant Pas de Six, which is the traditional Peasant Pas de Deux split up between three couples. Leading the three couples in a series of emboîtés, cabrioles and partnered entrelacés were Kate Honea and Miguel Piquer, who shined in their respective solos, which featured Honea hopping en pointe in a diagonal and Piquer in a series of double tours en l’air.
Act I culminated with the “Mad Scene,” when Hilarion (Alexei Kondratyuk) exposes Albrecht as a nobleman who is already betrothed to Batilde (Tracey Tucci). Cojocaru’s mental breakdown was a bit tame, but poignant, nonetheless.
Also noteworthy: the return of Alexei Dovgopolyi to the Sarasota Ballet stage. Even though he portrayed the Duke instead of Albrecht, Sarasota Ballet’s former star still holds his own.
Act II is the most beloved act for “Giselle” fans, which takes place in the forest haunted by the Wilis, ghosts of jilted brides. The ethereal creatures, performed by 18 girls, were led by Amy Wood, who portrayed Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. Wood was clean and precise in her performance but, perhaps, prematurely personified evil before her proclamations of “dancing to death.”
The corps de ballet, although synchronized, had a terrible time staying in line, which greatly dimmed the illusion of beauty. Perhaps fault lies with the choreography, in which the lead Wilis — Moyna (Tucci) and Zulma (Danielle Brown) — were underused. In other versions, the lead Wilis do exactly that: lead. Without the experience of Tucci and Brown, the immaturity of this new group of dancers was exposed.
However, from Cojocaru’s first développé à la seconde, which almost touched her ear, Act II was redeemed. Cojocaru and Kobborg delivered a stunning pas de deux that included floating lifts, sauté arabesques that glided across the floor and matching grand fouetté sautés. After both Giselle and Albrecht beg Myrtha and the Wilis to let Albrecht live, Kobborg performed an astounding series of 12 entrechat and six cabriole jumps, before falling to the floor with exhaustion. In the end, as in most fairy tales, love conquers all: Albrecht is saved.
Sir Peter Wright’s choreography of “Giselle” was a simpler, less-dramatic version of the ballet, perhaps disappointing some diehard devotees. The sets and costumes, borrowed from K-Ballet in Japan, were drab and dull. Nonetheless, the luminosity of Cojocaru and Kobborg polished this classical favorite.
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