Ballet and dance

La Scala Ballet: Giselle

Date: February 19 & 22, 2014
Location: Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.

Choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot

La Scala Ballet

Hong Kong Sinfonietta (orchestra)
David Garforth (conductor)

French Romantic ballet, stemming from the flurry of artistic output in the early- to mid-nineteenth century in continental Europe, features such Romantic concepts as human love, nature, and yearning for peace and freedom. Much of this was on display here at the 2014 Hong Kong Arts Festival, in a La Scala production of Giselle. The impressive lush scenes in Act I, gorgeous costumes and buttery dancing offered a perfect angle from which to view Romanticism.

Headlining La Scala’s efforts was Svetlana Zakharova, the Russian/Ukrainian superstar who would dance two of the evenings (sandwiched between her Sochi Olympics opening ceremony and closing ballet gala duties), and David Hallberg, who would partner with Zakharova on those evenings. Reviewed here were two performances that featured neither of them, mainly because of scheduling conflicts (with Cologne and Pires), but also because these two superstars were not obvious interpreters of the Romantic genre. The alternate pairings of Lusymay di Stefano/ Claudio Coviello and Virna Toppi/Antonino Sutera, though lacking global star power, proved nevertheless adequate and effective. In di Stefano, La Scala found a Giselle who moved with fluidic smoothness and round arms — both hallmarks of French Romanticism. Toppi, when posing en arabesque, found her upper body always slightly leaning forward in a naturally balanced pose — another hallmark of Romanticism. While neither rendered the treacherous directional turns during their en pointe travels in the Bergmüller variation (and neither did Zakharova in her two performances, from what I heard through the grapevine), both executed with ample lyricism and velvety smoothness. Toppi was technically clean and dramatically scorching. When she fell into the arms of her mother at the end of Act I, one could really smell that her life was expiring. Di Stefano, exhibiting a glittering youthful presence, found no issue singing the concept of love through her body. When her pleas to Myrtha to spare Albrecht were dismissed, she proved tantalizingly effective in projecting not only despair but a sense of longing for freedom through death and sacrifice.

Coviello was a prolific actor, and his Albrecht made a suitably jelling partner of di Stefano’s Giselle, however short their time together might be. Sutera spared no juices to remain aviating mid-air for as long and as cleanly as possible, and the crowd reciprocated, during his string of thirty-two strongly danced entrechats six, with hearty approval. The rest of the corps had sensational outings in both evenings. In the Act II Dance of the Willis, the corps moved en tutti harmoniously. Their charging arabesques towards the middle of the stage, in teaming lines of succession, paraded ahead with both integrated beauty and a steadfast togetherness.

Over the past century, Adolphe Adam’s score has been more edited and revised than Mary Tyler Moore’s Kim Novak’s face. But thanks to the research and editing efforts of long-time Scala conductor David Garforth and publisher Boosey & Hawkes a decade ago, much of Adam’s original score was restored. The Garforth edition was played here in Hong Kong. Under the baton of Garforth himself, the Hong Kong Sinfonietta was luscious and cooperative in these two evenings, and sounded markedly better than they did last year with the ABT in Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. Admittedly, Adam’s score, pounded out in a week’s time, was not as intricate and hazardous as Prokofiev’s. Nevertheless, the Sinfonietta sounded luxuriant and vital, which in turn made these two Romantic evenings a most fulfilling one.

Giselle, Act I Rhineland scene. (Copyright: La Scala Ballet)

Giselle, Act I: Rhineland scene. (Copyright: La Scala Ballet)

Giselle Act II: Dance of the Willis. (Copyright: La Scala Ballet)

Giselle, Act II: Dance of the Willis. (Copyright: La Scala Ballet)