I had the great pleasure of watching two different and thoroughly enjoyable versions of Giselle over this weekend. It is a rarity that we are given two different dramatic storylines which are milked for all they are worth, to different effect. What a joy, and an absolute pleasure.
And Giselle made me cry.
Here’s the advert by SDT, for the curious.
There will be those who line up for Swan Lake for the fouettes and Sleeping Beauty for the Rose Adagio, and then when it comes to Giselle, are like “Okay, mad scene, but what else?”
I did not know much about Giselle before I watched the performances. The storyline has (I know it’s “had”, but please, it irritates me slightly still!) always irritated me — why did Hilarion have to die?!! How could Albrecht be allowed to live??? Why was Hilarion given a name so close to “hilarious” when his ending was anything but funny? Where is the love in all of this? Hence, I’d never watched Giselle before this – and anyway, DVDs are not the same, for me.
Well, Giselle is a frightening heck of a marathon. She’s on those feet, leaping and hopping and bouncing and spinning forever. Albrecht (whom we shall now call Mr A because it’s too hard to type his name) is up and at it as well, with his multitude of lifts and jumps. The peasant pas de deux is no walk in the park. The Queen of Willis has a ton of solos.
Less talk, more pictures. Hurray, someone else wrote the storyline so I don’t have to. Some of the pictures actually show Rosa and Chen Peng.
Li Jie is pictured below as Giselle.
The cast list!
As Nazer has left SDT 😦 the question arose as to who would end up partnering Li Jie as Mr A. This is no simple matter, so I didn’t bother applying my mind to it until the news came out a few weeks ago that Jason Carter would be making his debut as Mr A. There are always a few factors, I suppose. Obviously, there’s the dancing and the lifting of the lady overhead, which actually a lot of the guys can do, I’m sure. There’s carrying the weight of the show on one’s shoulders, there’s the acting, there’s the visual element – Li Jie is one of the taller female dancers and Jason is possibly a good 8 or so cm taller, and onstage that translates to a lot – and then there’s the chemistry. They’ve worked together before, and there’s an easy rapport in those small pair work roles – I’d forgotten but they were Lilac Fairy and Cavelier. Of course the trick sometimes is smiling at your partner as if he is the bee’s knees, and you will find that the principal female dancers do that a great deal.
Note: Jason Carter is paired with Li Jie, Kenya is paired with Chihiro.
When the curtains part, we see a backdrop of a forested mountain. We are in some idyllic village that grows grapes. Berthe, Giselle’s mother, brews wine for the nobles of the court. Apparently, back in the day, the countryside life was viewed in a romantic light – much as one might view the Hamptons or a spa in Switzerland.
Giselle’s house is on the audience’s left, flowers in the window, what a lovely day. On the audience’s right, there is only one other building in sight, a hut which belongs to nobody. Behind it is a well and exactly two flowers grow by the well.
It’s early morning! First we see the villagers emerge, some yawning and stretching. The first man to appear is Hilarion, played by Yorozu Kensuke. Shan Del Vecchio plays a particularly sleepy villager who has to be peeled off the bench, while Yeo Chan Yee is the village girl smitten by Hilarion, who dismisses her so that she has to return to the side of Jerry Wan, who rolls his eyes at her youthful impudence.
Everyone disappears to the hills behind Giselle’s house to go pluck grapes. Hilarion hangs around and hovers (sorry, the alliteration is too good to resist) by Giselle’s house. Hilarion’ll have you know that a beautiful girl lives within, and that he lurrrrrves her. Kensuke does this splendid little wriggle as he brings his hands to his heart. Only Kensuke, I say, can in one move demonstrate both his fondness for the girl and also make his character (not quite sleazy, but…) a little ounce of something in his nature that makes you feel slightly irritated – because you’re not here to like Hilarion. (Neither are you here to support Mr A, actually.)
Hilarion plucks a flower from the well but nah, it’s not good enough for his Giselle – so he tosses it aside without a second glance at it. The second flower is perfect, and he places it with reverence on her doorstep, then blows her a kiss, and then hark! he hears someone calling for him, and after one last longing glance at her door, he waves to that someone, and runs off to join the harvesters. It’s all these simple moves that tell a full story: Kensuke acting as if he’s heard someone, then looking at Giselle’s door, then deciding yeah, he’d better make a move, and dashing off, hailing his invisible friends.
Down from the slope on the audience’s right, behind the well, enters Wilfred, Mr A’s right-hand man, looking startlingly noble in rich grassy green puffed sleeves. Justin Zee is Jason Carter’s Wilfred – he cuts a tall, imposing figure and since we’re all expecting Mr A , it’s a surprise. Reece Hudson is a quick-footed, lively Wilfred who dashes in way ahead of his Mr A and checks the coast.
Next Mr A enters, in shades of brown. He’s here for his Roman Holiday. Apparently it is the day of the Festival of the Wine. (Some of these additional notes I have are from the One @ The Ballet session.)
Now we come to our parting of ways in the story!
Version 1 – Jason Carter
Jason Carter’s Mr A is here to kick back and relax. Does he not want to hunt? Wilfred asks, but nope, Mr A just wants to mingle with the people and chill. They retire to a hut, and when they emerge, Mr A’s not wearing his noble cloak. How do I look, Wilfred? He asks. Just like a peasant, no?
Justin Zee as Wilfred says Well enough, but hey now, there’s your sword.
Oh yes, I forgot, says Jason-Mr A, hahaha. This is possibly one of the few times his Mr A actually lols in the entire production.
Even after the sword is put away into the hut, Wilfred is highly doubtful about the whole escapade and when Mr A is curious about the nearby house, Wilfred tries to stop him from approaching it, and even blocks his way. Mr A then physically moves him aside and, without realising the irony, morphs into “Remember, I’m A Noble And Your Boss”, and gives a rousing rendition of “Do As I Say and Begone”, pointing at Wilfred imperiously. Wilfred backs off, tries to chide Mr A, Mr A repeats his noble order, Wilfred goes away resignedly, stops halfway as if about to turn back and dissuade Mr A, then remembers the metamorphosis above, and goes away with #smh (shaking my head) hanging above his head.
Now we see Jason-Mr A feeling some regret at having behaved in such a mean fashion, and he runs after Wilfred, but Wilfred’s disappeared, or too far away, and Mr A also feels that dangit, he’s going to go through with it anyway, it’s his holiday and he’ll do what he likes.
Here is an Albrecht who has some conscience, some heart, and not much thought going on. He is a noble. He neither spins nor toils. He just does what he wants to, and now he wants to knock at the door of the nearby house. He is not a very bad person, just not a very thoughtful one. He’s not crazy cavalier, or splash with cash. He’s just never had to think too hard about consequences, or about life in general.
Version 2 – Nakamura Kenya
I don’t know what Mr A here has heard, but he seems aware that there’s a beautiful girl living in that house over there. Yes, he’s drawn to the house, and Kenya takes the step of standing closer to the front of stage and drawing our attention to the house. There’s never any doubt that he’s enchanted by the bucolic cottage, so there’s a foreshadowing that he’s going to be equally enchanted by its contents.
Wilfred, as played by Reece Hudson, is animated and lively, and he helps to up the energy of the scene. He manages to persuade Kenya to get away from the house, but then Kenya decides to play dress-up and it’s quite funny when Wilfred tells him Yep , it would be great but for the sword, don’t you think? Wilfred is also given to strong emotions: No way are you going into that house, sire, he says, opening his arms wide emphatically to block Mr A’s way. But Kenya is that solid stern noble with a slight temper, and he puts Wilfred in his place. An audience member chuckled when he stopped partway through walking off, and visibly considered whether to try to dissuade Kenya-Mr A, then checked himself: oh no, well, there’s no changing his mind.
Kenya’s Mr A is just sooo taken with the house. It’s almost as if he knows there’s got to be somebody inside there waiting for him.
Both Messrs A start to knock on the door, but in glancing down, they notice a flower on the doorstep. Yes, indeed – a young lady must live here. Jason’s Mr A picks up the flower and casts it aside disdainfully – who cares about whoever left it here! He knocks inaudibly on the door, then sneaks round the corner to see what happens next. Really, he doesn’t think at all. Kenya’s Mr A tosses aside the flower too, but in an almost comical way (like, whatever) , and then he actually does knock on the door, and whips round the corner in playful anticipation.
The door opens and Giselle emerges. Hurrah! She’s in a simple folksy blue dress and she comes out and tells us that she heard someone knock but she can’t see anyone. Chihiro’s Giselle is the light-hearted cheerful lively village girl, and her movements are expansive and slightly exaggerated because she’s confiding in you, almost as if she’s telling you a story by a fireplace. Li Jie has always been slightly more reserved in movement, but I am actually also fine with that – it’s also a realistic reaction.
I cannot help but say this now: It was a wonder to watch Li Jie and Jason Carter and realise that they were telling the story through their dancing. They are deeply expressive in their movements. They are dancers who tell stories through their body language and their dance moves, who emote through their dancing, who communicate with the audience in how they hold their bodies. They are aware of how their body moves, or else their thoughts are just best expressed in these subtle movements. It was interesting to realise that they had the same principles in how they chose to tell us the story. (They are also slightly more reserved and are interestingly fairly well-matched.)
Anyway, Giselle darts about to try to find out who has knocked on her door. Chihiro is a delightful, charming girlish Giselle. How she moves when she is not dancing per se, is to make full use of the stage and her arms and her torso so that you can see she really wants to know who it was. Chihiro has developed her own language and stage presence in this manner. It’s a bit like projection of the image so that everyone can see, and it is meant to draw everyone from small children to adults, into the story. Kenya has also developed that in this Giselle, the larger-than-life approach.
Li Jie goes for a more natural person-you-might-know look, smiling at us in simple puzzlement. This is her Giselle – the simple, good-natured girl-next-door who was at home sleeping because of her weak heart, until she heard a knock, and she checks about for the knocker.
Giselle does her character’s dance, and it is danced three times, which is useful for the mad scene. I do like this dance – starting with the double lifting of the foot to the supporting leg, then a low kick outwards. Mr A playfully peers out at her and blows kisses (Kenya’s are audible, which is hilarious) and hides again, and she turns around, hand lifted as if she’s heard him, poised en pointe delicately on one foot – but he’s gone. I think that quite early on, Chihiro’s Giselle takes note of the hut, to draw our eyes to it and what’s coming up.
Anyway, Giselle wanders to the front right-hand corner of the stage, wondering where the person who knocked might be. She then wanders slowly backwards, as Mr A positions himself carefully in the centre of the stage. Jason’s Mr A takes his time about it, he’s amused by the simple carefree Li Jie, and he edges himself towards her as she edges backwards towards him, which is playful of Mr A. Kenya’s Mr A is confident and cheekily plants himself in the middle of the stage, waiting.
When Giselle backs into Mr A, she is startled and glances up over her shoulder, and there she sees a handsome gentleman staring down at her.
(I stopped here to watch Claudia Dean explain why she left the Royal Ballet. Yes, she just put up a video on it and in the comments, she also mentioned possibly making a video with Kathryn Morgan, be still my own heart. But I will watch it at judicious points.)
The One @ The Ballet write-up helpfully tells us that ‘…every interpreter of Albrecht has a choice. Was his love of Giselle so overpowering that it negated his previous life or was he caught in a tragic game that came to an unfortunate conclusion?” Mr Janek Schergen has said that of all the men he’s ever asked, Did Albrecht ever fall in love with Giselle or was he still pretending all the way in Act 1? only one has answered that he was simply (a horrible person) toying with Giselle’s emotions. So yes, Giselle in the SDT production does steal Albrecht’s heart a little.
Version 1 – Li Jie & Jason
Li Jie’s Giselle immediately turns to stone. I remember this clearly from Friday night’s performance. All of her does not move at all – not her face, nor her arms or her legs. This must be a dream. How is there a man who is not out harvesting grapes, but who lingers here in this neck of the woods? Jason’s Mr A captures her hand ever so lightly and she tugs away in a bit of a fright, and steps away from him. Oh, the warmth of those fingers! One hand is already at her heart, and now this other hand clasps that other hand in that universal sign of a heart starting to possibly fall in love. And then a tiny little smile crosses Li Jie’s face and she lowers her hand and ever so slightly seems to look at it, as if she can’t believe it’s true but she wants to know and Mr A takes her hand again. A cute little gesture on Giselle’s part, a little sign that she kinda liked how he took her hand and she kinda is okay if he does it again because he warmed her heart and that gesture just takes your breath away.
This time, Mr A leans in to kiss her hand. Really, Jason’s Mr A is not exactly a thoughtless flirt – he’s having a little harmless (to him, cue eyeroll) fun and honestly, he doesn’t give off a sleazy air. Though he should not be doing this if he has a fiancée 😦
But Li Jie darts away behind him, half-shocked but almost definitely quite delighted, too. This is what is crucial. Here’s a simple village girl who’s found a really charming, pretty handsome tall young man who’s willing to flirt with her straightaway, who makes it clear that he finds her attractive. In this neck of woods, her with her weak heart and no one but Hilarion chasing after her (maybe all the other guys have been scared off by Hilarion), what a lovely surprise this is. This is the image of Li Jie’s Giselle, fleshed out by Jason-Mr A’s good-natured flirtations. You begin to live inside the mind of her Giselle, to understand what it is like for her Giselle to meet her Mr A.
Version 2 – Chihiro & Kenya
Chihiro starts away a little, her heart thudding. It’s definitely love at first sight and ohmygodhe’shandsome for Chihiro – the thudding heart of shock and the first blush of love in how she looks down kind of in the demure village girl way. She does drop her hand again, but there’s no sign that it’s totally deliberate. Perhaps it’s her subconscious that’s doing it.
Suffice to say that Mr A catches up to her, enough to introduce himself as Loys, and Giselle, remembering her manners, introduces herself. Then she appears to attempt to flee. Chihiro’s are obvious gestures of trying to escape, out of shyness, even though she seems attracted to him, and Kenya-Mr A is evidently already fond of her. He does tease her a little in holding her hand while she shakes her head and does a little dance of I should really get going.
Li Jie doesn’t make as large a show of fleeing – a more restrained dancing version of it, to which the gentleman Jason-Mr A equally gently restrains her in a friendly rather than sinister fashion.
Mr A invites Giselle to sit and she does so, deliberately (Li Jie) / delicately (Chihiro) spreading out her skirt so he has nowhere to sit. When he points that out good-naturedly (oh, who wouldn’t fall in love with such gentle teasing at this point!), she moves aside for him. Kenya’s Mr A keeps comically nudging Giselle along slightly so that he has more space, and she keeps moving away slightly, until he turns around to put his arm around her and she runs away just in time.
Actually, there’s so much dancing I can’t remember when it is that she dances as if she’s waving a flower high in the air above their heads; I can’t remember exactly when it is that it ends with her in his arms and he leaning in for the kiss and she rejecting him, Li Jie’s shoulders hunching up – but you can tell from her body language that she likes him. It’s another of those little simple actions that reminds you that Giselle is just a girl who is tasting young love for the first time.
At some point, Mr A declares he loves her and he vows he loves her (will love her forever?), and she stops him as it’s bad luck. A silly vow, made by a silly young man or one that does like Giselle.
Give me one kiss, he says, and she says no. Giselle is so pure and innocent, after all, and one does not kiss a strange man whom one has just met.
Then Giselle must arabesque and make a show either of ah, flowers over there or I’ve an idea! whichever it is, and then head over to the flower box at the window of her house, and pick a suitable flower, a daisy. For this she sits back down on the bench and Mr A rests his foot on the edge of the bench and folds his arms to watch as she counts: One, he loves me – and she puts it on her skirt (like “That’s a good one,” says Mr Janek Schergen), One – he loves me not, which she tosses away (“Bad one”), and she pauses to count the rest and oh no, it’s the wrong number, he loves me not. Stricken, she puts the flower down and walks away, a little heart-broken. Mr A takes the flower, counts (or does not, depending) and tugs out an offending petal and throws it aside, then shows her: See, now it totally adds up!
He’s still being cheeky, still flirting a little. Who wouldn’t, when you’ve met such a gorgeous maiden with such an endearing smile? They then proceed to do a delightful little dance round the stage – hand-holding, lifted legs to the side, a delicate and simple dance by two young people who are attracted to each other and getting to know each other. It’s not the grand ballroom dancing you see in Swan Lake waltzes.
Hilarion chances upon them just as Giselle takes to the air in a large jete and Mr A follows suit, and round the stage they go, in what is obviously a courting dance. Jealous Hilarion hides by the well and watches. A little twirl, a zing of chemistry, a special shared moment, ending with Giselle leaning back against Mr A, a leg gently lifted high, her arms delicate and graceful, in the air.
Happily now, they stand together, hands clasped together and unable to stand it, Hilarion separates the two and loses his temper. How can you be all lovey-dovey with him? Incredulously: You love him?? And Giselle says Yes! I love him, with all the light of love shining in her eyes.
This seems a good time to explain that Kenya is obviously the head-over-heels-in-love Mr A, who has perhaps never realised that he doesn’t really love his fiancée, or who has utterly forgotten her because Giselle is just so durned lovable. He has fallen off the boat and into the river of love (坠入, or zhui4ru4, in Mandarin, fallen in with a real proper splash) and by the end of their little couple dance, it’s safe to say he’s in love with her just as much as she is smitten by him.
Jason Carter, on the other hand, is super ai4 mai3 ai4 mai3. In Hokkien (I think) this simply means “do you want this or do you not??” and, literally, “yes no yes no” – and it denotes indecisiveness and wishy-washiness in a situation. He has no idea that he is starting to really kind of like Giselle. He’s just swept up in enjoying the whole thing without a single real thought about what this could spell for her. At the same time, he’s not like really going to put a ring on it, despite his earlier careless vow when he was swept up in the moment looking at this cute pretty girl. Jason’s #aimaiaimaiAlbrecht helps remind us, time and again, that she is really just a simple peasant girl who utterly believes him to be her true Prince Charming, another villager whom she can totally marry and go off into the sunset with. If you think about it, aimai-aimai is exactly why Albrecht decided not to chase after Wilfred and apologise in the first scene! Half-hearted dude that he is.
Back to the story. Angry Hilarion says to Giselle: No! I forbid you to love him. I love you!
Giselle rejects him, for what we know must be the hundredth time. Li Jie rejects him with such eloquence: How can you tell me who to love, say her gestures. She is eloquent in her disgust and distaste, and her dislike for Hilarion, in those graceful unfolding flicking hands and arms, in the turning of her back, even as she is a little hurt and shocked. Chihiro is a little more of a Giselle who is hurt and distressed, almost to tears – such an expressive face. Giselle is pure and does not delight in having men fight over her. Hilarion makes her sad by so abruptly ordering her not to be with the man she loves.
Hilarion kneels: you know I love you, he says, pleadingly and he really does, but unfortunately he doesn’t help his case by grabbing a handful of her skirt, which is somewhat coarse behaviour and scares the pure, innocent Giselle, who pulls away in horror and real fright. You must contrast this later with how, in Act 2, Albrecht reaches for the froth of her skirt because it’s the nearest thing he can touch, and there is a hint of desire as well in that, and Giselle as a spirit understands that well.
Mr A intervenes now, standing between the two. Go away, you brute, says Kenya’s Mr A, all ready to protect his beloved Giselle, and we are secure in his love for Giselle. For Jason’s Mr A, Hilarion’s unreasonable behaviour has raised his hackles. He’s not slimy enough to be merely playing a game with Giselle by this stage. It is his awareness of his 100 years of noble lineage that makes him order Hilarion to back off.
Hilarion is ready for a duel, and he reaches for his dagger on his right. Instinctively, Mr A reaches for his sword on the left. Only nobles carry swords on their left, and Hilarion notices a discrepancy just as Mr A remembers the absence of his noble sword and why it’s missing. Nevertheless, Mr A prevails and Hilarion goes off.
The villagers arrive. Sensing Giselle’s sudden shyness about their hanging out together in front of everyone, Mr A says he would like to be introduced to Giselle’s friends. He also introduces himself. He also desires to kiss her, but she cups her hand over his mouth; sweet, innocent Giselle.
Now comes the time for Giselle to show off. No, really. She loves him terribly and she also can’t help but want to show him a dance to impress her crush cos that’s how the first blush of love works. He sits down, and while the girls dance about with arms in the air as if they are holding up flower wreaths, Giselle prances in the centre and smiles at Mr A at the end. The fact that the other girls are not doing massive leaps cues us in to the fact that this dance is all for him.
I think this is where the village girls start to actually dance, in fours. And boy, do they look good and how happy we are to see more dancing! I feel a lot of the dancing in this is a great deal of footwork, the kicks from the knee or from the mid-calf; the changing of feet (e.g. go en pointe and put one foot to passe at the knee, lower that raised foot and go en pointe on it and the other goes up to passe). I love this, the smooth feet, the little exchanges. It’s so soothing and everyone dances beautifully.
Giselle and Mr A joining in – there are groups of four, and Giselle and Mr A each join one group as the fourth, dancing round in happy rings like four-leaved clovers. While everyone is dancing in a row, she and he break off and stroll away – but she suddenly feels faint – her heart is troubling her, and she is breathless, and he inadvertently leaves her behind. He realises and goes back to find her, and asks her if she is fine. There’s nothing wrong with her, she reassures him, smiling bravely. Nothing would stop Giselle from dancing with the man she loves! They join the villagers, who have now formed four arms of a spinning cross, and they join in the opposing ends of the arms, merrily kicking legs up, arms around other villagers. This requires them to run from arm to arm and then join in the dance. This ballet is a marathon.
Now it is time for him to dance with her. I believe she invites him. It’s always Giselle who wants to dance. This is an adorable and also unexpected dance, given that kissing is not really done in a lot of ballets. Maybe because they’re not royals… It’s the air-kiss dance, where they blow kisses at each other at every turn, literally – a leap in the air, a landing, blowing kisses, and again and again down an invisible row to the back of the stage. Then Giselle pretends to blow him a kiss on an extended hand, then pulls her hand back as he reaches for it, withholding the kisses. Always skating up en pointe, one leg back in bent arabesque (attitude), her other hand pinching up her skirt across her front, as if she’s coyly hiding behind it.
At this point, Chihiro’s Giselle is fully smitten and committed to the relationship, and Kenya’s Mr A, backing up in the face of her great love for him, is completely invested in it, too. They are in love, love, love. Their dance is the playful dance of flirtatious lovers. The Chihiro-Kenya performance builds us a massive fairytale romance in Act 1 so it can tear it down.
Li Jie and Jason’s version is not the all-out-romance and punch-drunk love. In Li Jie’s rendition of this dance, it’s clear that she’s still a simple village girl who’s really fond of this peasant-boy and feels she is going to marry him (in a very chaste and idyllic way) while Jason’s Mr A dances along willingly (one would have to be blind not to dance willingly with this Giselle by this stage) and has probably forgotten today’s the Festival of the Wine. Li Jie and Jason’s performance creates the story of a village girl and her dreams, which seem very real to her and to us, until they are destroyed. Everything is so real until it’s not. It would drive anyone crazy.
This is getting really long and I’m regretting this. Why did I not do a general review of the performance? Blast it. But I’m doing this for myself, too. In theory, it’s for people who google the performance. In reality, … google has algorithms.
Anyway, Berthe (Giselle’s mum) wakes up, everyone tries to help hide the couple and even distract Berthe, but there’s no stopping a mother’s instincts, which lead her straight to Giselle. Why are you up at this hour, girl?
This is where Giselle dances her signature dance round her mother again, as if to say: But I love dancing, and please let me dance! Giselle by Li Jie does this in her good-natured simple Giselle way – the straightforward, direct village sweetheart girl-next-door who sees no harm in having a little dance to express the way she feels. Giselle by Chihiro is a cheeky charmer who kind of girlishly pleads with her mum, but you know how much I love it, hehehe. This creates a different sort of relationship with her mum.
I’m so bad with the order of events now. I know her mum sends her to bed at some point in time and parting is such sweet sorrow for the couple – Jason’s Mr A still just wants to have fun, and Giselle leaves with a promise in her eyes and an indication that she’ll be back; Chihiro scoots back to Kenya and has to be persuaded to go and rest, but she and Kenya make lovey-dovey eyes at each other as they part.
The stage clears.
Wilfred reappears with a hunting horn and Mr A’s cloak, and reminds Mr A that the nobles will be about sooner or later, so please get properly dressed and presentable. Wilfred hangs the hunting horn up on a convenient hook on Giselle’s house. When Wilfred wraps the cloak about Mr A, Mr A gets cranky again. Jason’s Mr A, for the first time, has to actually consider briefly what might happen when his two worlds collide. True to his nature, he doesn’t want to think about it – he rejects it all – he will not be present! for I think in his heart he realises that he was actually enjoying himself thoroughly in the village, in this world that is so far away from his real, staid and stiff velvet life. He is a man-child who has no idea what to do next, so he throws the cloak to the ground and dashes off, leaving Wilfred to pick up his cloak and manfully go after him. Now, Kenya’s Mr A is truly furious because he is so madly in love by now that any reminder of his real life is too terrible for him to contemplate. He dashes his cloak to the ground and storms off, and hapless Wilfred follows.
I suppose that this is the point where Hilarion pops up and has a wordless monologue where he complains about what has happened, and as he perhaps swears to himself that he could have scared that upstart with his dagger, and he pumps his fist determinedly, he recalls how Mr A reached for a sword on the left. Ah, a nobleman’s sword! He turns: ah, a nobleman’s hunting horn! Ermahgawd, two and two together. He sees the hut. It must be the hiding place of this chap. Or maybe this is the hut of the nobles when they are on holiday, who knows. He presses his ear to the door. No one’s inside. All right, time to break in with my trusty dagger. (At One @ The Ballet, when Hilarion and his dagger were introduced, Kensuke took it out and started twitching it about happily and Hilarion-like in his hand and Mr Schergen said All right, we can put that away now.)
Very convincingly, with a jerk of the dagger, the lock is picked, and in goes Kensuke and out he emerges with the sword that is not in its scabbard because death by blade, what is that. He then compares the insignia on the sword’s hilt with the insignia on the hunting horn. Yep, one and the same. The chap who owns this sword has been about this area and Kensuke’s Hilarion knows who it is. But hark! People are coming by. What shall he do? This is where the devil that sits on Hilarion’s shoulder whispers, Take the sword, and thus the seeds of tragedy are sown, if they were not already sown earlier. Hilarion dashes offstage with the sword.
I also know that at some point in time everyone is onstage again, including the couple. Was I wrong about the earlier dance? Is this where everyone dances? No! I think this is where Giselle persuades her mum to please, please let her dance for Albrecht! And her mum relents since she’s already had her nap. This is the fiendish hopping dance, wherein Giselle dances on one toe as she lifts her arms up as gracefully as water sleeves. It’s a dance unaccompanied by everyone else. Giselle is saying: I love you, I love you, this is my dance for you. Previously, perhaps she was trying to impress him, then to tease him. Now she is dancing her heart out for him.
When your Kenya-Mr A loves you and there is love in the air, you are sealing the deal with him – you are expressing your love in a two-sided relationship. When your Mr A is aimaiAlbrecht and the audience knows it, what we see is the shy, simple, loving girl who loves a man so much that she would dance even if it might kill her, because she is young, and in love. It is in Li Jie’s dancing and her movements that we see that dance is how Giselle best knows how to express what she feels, and she wants this man to know. It is a tragedy waiting to happen. Well, I did also think that Giselle wanted her man to know that she was fine and fit after all.
It is also a difficult dance – Chihiro hops half-way across the stage cleanly – it requires pirouettes that look complicated (sudden landings with extended legs?) and this dance is entirely beautiful and pure and graceful. And the multiple speedy pirouettes with passes that swap so quickly that it looks as if the legs are one rotating spinning pole and end with hands lifted, to loud applause. I’ve read that the high ronde de jambes (circles drawn by raised legs in the air) can be flirtatious and almost sensual in some versions, like see my leeeg. None of that here.
Chihiro and Li Jie are never boring to watch. You could just sit forever and watch them in their exquisite movements.
At the end of it, Giselle’s mother Berthe looks at her tired daughter and the strange man, and oh, she worries. And she makes everyone sit down and she tells them the story of the Willis. Have I not mentioned the strongly expressive, beautifully dramatic Shantha Ratii yet? It’s amazing, watching her move. She is so experienced – she tells a story with every move and with every emotion on her brow. Every move is beautifully strong and graceful.
When she tells the story of the Willis, she lends it an air of authenticity: Crosses on graves, ladies lying in them, buried before their time, broken-hearted before marriage, rising up as Willis (her hands forming wicked little boney wings on her back, adequately scary). She picks a man from the crowd – always the chap who is Wilfred in the other performance. Marina, his girlfriend, gets up quickly as if to protect her man, and to cling to him and get him to sit down before he is carried away by a Willi. Berthe decides to pick someone else to illustrate what she means, and she picks Mr A. She tells him, the Willis will make you dance until you die. Until I die? asks puzzled Mr A. You can see that Jason’s Mr A is still a nobleman who’s not heard such superstitions and he’s confuzzled. Kenya’s Mr A’s dismay has a note of foreboding to it.
Berthe repents and the storyline in the booklet says she says it’s an old wive’s tale. What really happens, I think, is that she fears she has somehow cursed the couple. Regrets, we’ve had a few.
But all’s well now because we hear the hunting horn. Or is it well? Everyone gets up. It’s time to get the grapes and wine! Giselle parts from Albrecht, who melts away into the woods because he doesn’t want nobody to know where he is.
Nobles arrive, a table is brought out by the hardworking Shan Del Vecchio and Jasper Arran. Grapes in baskets, wine in caskets, to be poured out. Nobles – the men in fabulous hats with fabulous plum-coloured plumes, led by the Prince of Courland (Mohd Noor Sarman) and Suzuki Mai as Bathilde, the betrothed of Mr A.
Wilfred knocks on Berthe’s door and she emerges. The wine-tasting may begin. All wait with bated breath as the Prince of Courland swirls the wine and then tastes it. Dramatic pause…music slows to chiming…Prince nods and smiles, pronounces the wine top stuff, and everyone heaves a sigh of relief.
I believe that this is where Giselle lets us know that she is a seamstress (since she can’t climb mountains to pluck grapes) and she is totally taken by the wonderful rich fur-trimmed velvet cloak of Bathilde. Can I just say that I love how Bathilde’s hair is exactly like the hair in those picture books we had of old stories, the buns to the side wrapped in criss-cross golden wires?
Hey, some clothes, since we’re at it. Rich colours onstage. This is Bathilde’s dress, I suppose, and that’s Wilfred’s costume. Trust me, they look like a million bucks onstage.
Giselle goes forward to press her cheek against that gorgeous rich fabric. You, as the audience member, metaphorically spit out your coffee and go: What, what??? Like, who in the world does that? Especially to a noble? I think this is meant to endear her to us or something, like such a simple (dim-witted??) village girl. The rest of the villagers think just like you do. This is probably even harder to convince us about than the mad scene, man. Li Jie carries it through as the simple Giselle who really innocently just wants to know – you have already seen above the sort of Giselle she is. Chihiro is the same, an innocent child-like curiosity (in my friend’s words: She looked like a country bumpkin). Think about it, this contrast between Bathilde and Giselle. Think about how Albrecht must feel…
When Bathilde feels something playing with her cloak, she turns around and of course Giselle is horrified and apologetic and runs to her friends. Anyone could have their head sliced off for annoying a noble, remember. But Bathilde, played by the simply amazing slightly condescending Suzuki Mai, is generous of heart in her own “poor little country girl” way. She speaks kindly to this country girl, saying she is beautiful, asking who she is. Giselle introduces herself and explains that she sews clothes. She also loves to dance, and she dances her simple introductory dance. This may make one roll one’s eyes, but think about it: this is her signature move, it helps advance the mad scene, and importantly, it’s really contrasts a village girl against the grand noble who does all the grand courtly dancing instead of this. She is proud of her little dance, and why should she not be?
Suzuki Mai is absolutely splendid as Bathilde. From the shoulder pads to the way she leans back languidly when she stands, to the way she moves her head and hands, in the fashion of a sophisticated royal who’s never rubbed shoulders with peasants, these quaint creatures whom she acknowledges exist – but in a world far removed from her own. She’s not mean – she’s just a royal. I wondered when she was cast. Excellent choice. Brilliant contrast with Giselle. Without a convincing Bathilde, you don’t have half the backstory of Mr A.
Berthe intervenes, apologises, sweeps her daughter away chidingly. But Bathilde goes over and firmly moves Berthe’s hands away and brings Giselle back into the light. This child intrigues her. They’re probably about the same age but such a charming, unsophisticated girl she is! Let’s have some charming girl-talk about boys because we’re about the same age, we need the story to progress, and the Bechdel test didn’t exist in those days.
Bathilde asks: So, have you anyone you love?
Giselle says: Yes I do; Li Jie in that sweet simple Giselle way, confiding girlishly; Chihiro in a delighted full-of-love way.
Bathilde says, I am engaged to be married. How about you?
This is the point of the dagger on which we rest.
Chihiro’s Giselle nods, entirely certain of the marriage at the end of the road, completely confident in the love her Mr A has for her – what were those dances, if not drenched in his adoration for her? And it’s true Kenya has hearts for eyes when he looks at her. But we know the ending 😦
Li Jie’s Giselle pauses, and you know she thinks to herself: Well, he practically vowed, and he blew kisses, and he really seems to like me so, so much, and honestly why would he not marry me? And so! She nods three times, determinedly, with a proud little smile.
That is the thunderclap overhead: Li Jie’s Giselle is a girl who has, since waking up this morning, fallen into the loveliest dream ever, and she imagines to herself that she is going to marry this wonderful handsome young man who has wooed her – she must be a little of a romantic at heart, and she has willed herself entirely into believing that it will happen. That is the beginning of the tears in the eyes, I tell you, the ache in the audience’s heart.
Everyone is stunned and Giselle goes round sharing this delightful news with them. Nodding and saying Yes, yes, indeed. Accepting their congratulations. Chihiro has a great deal of charisma and she engages with the background and the villagers very well, and our eye follows her. She is convincingly popular with the villagers. For Li Jie, oh the heart breaks a little because she is so happy and proud and sure and pleased but we know her man can’t be trusted. She herself can’t help but create the bubble that, when it breaks, destroys her.
In the meantime, Bathilde (Suzuki Mai is so awesome here that I can’t call her anything but Bathilde for the length of Act 1 in this post) asks her father for permission to give her necklace to this sweet village girl, holding out the pendant in hands cupped to form a heart. She’s kind-hearted in her own uppity noble way. She has fellow-feeling for this girl, wants to wish her well and to bless her marriage. Also, she’s rich so a necklace is just another trinket to her. Her father sighs and agrees, and so Wilfred relieves her of the necklace and presents it to Giselle.
Chihiro-Giselle is so, so happy and grateful and delighted.
赏赐 (shang3 ci4,used in the context of being gifted a present, where 赏赐 is gifted) is the word that comes to mind when Li Jie’s Giselle receives this gift, a present from high above. She is so absolutely having the best day of her life! The betrothal is so real in her mind now, and the necklace is like a gift from the heavens. Oh, the list goes on and on. Such a gorgeous dream. The heart aches, but we tell ourselves oh we’re not gonna cry, really, though our eyes are filling. Well, just a few tears, then.
How lovely, now we’ve all settled this business, we will be entertained by the fabulous peasant pair. They dance together – then man dances then woman then man then woman who is joined partway by man then they dance the coda and you feel tired for them. Interestingly, it opens with a hand tucked in the crook of the man’s arm, rather than arm-in-arm.
This requires the pair to kick their legs back, and forwards, together, in perfect synchrony, and the end to the first part is an unforgivingly speedy pirouette to open arms!lift and land!then leaning pose against the man while raising a leg in high arabesque!then a pose at the end.
Two very good pairs who have worked beautifully together before were picked – Akira and Huo Liang for Li Jie’s night, and Kwok Min Yi and Etienne for Chihiro’s night.
Let’s talk about the men. Huo Liang is secure and unafraid in his dancing. He dances with the confidence of a man who says see my corkscrew multi-pirouette spin in the air and my landing. See my little kicks and my glorious leaps with unfolding arms. See each move hang in the air like a brushstroke against a painting.
Etienne Ferrere is graceful and makes the peasant solo look good. Yes, it’s hard to look good in the second solo doing side-split lunge leaps, to leap while alternately raising your leg behind in an arabesque or else unfolding your bent leg into an arabesque. It also requires immense energy and skill and as always, he delivers each part solidly.
For ladies, the girls’ solo starts with a jump in profile, arms held out so the body forms a ‘K’. It’s super high-energy. It’s unforgiving – it’s sharp fast feet brushing up and down the ankles, while making very fast little turns. You need someone who is quite the technician to accomplish it, and both Akira with her speed and clean feet, and Min Yi with her precise lines and fifths, pull it off. There’s another unforgiving part in the second solo which involves turns while brushing one’s skirt. This is ironically because the less bravura a move is, the less high leg-kick it is, the harder it is to prove or show that you’re doing a particular move.
I like the ending, when the man joins in and they both leap into the air, they do symmetrical moves, they look glorious and bright. Min Yi has very long lines and now she draws her energy from the points of the stage. Akira is light of foot.
The nobles depart.
Albrecht returns because it’s safe to be back where no one knows his real identity.
I know there is a part where there is a cart and a cannon. I am not sure whether this is before or after the friends’ dance. I think it is before, and it brought tears to my eyes, for Chihiro was so bright and happy during it.
What happens for the cart is that two hardworking men roll in a cart that has what looks like a little cannon on it. Mr A loves this life! He lifts Giselle onto the cart, and Sun Hong Lei brings out a wreath wihch she is crowned with, and then gives her a bouquet. Oh, that little lifting by Jason of Li Jie and placing her on the cart – that simple gesture that hurts so much because she is so, so happy and to her, this seals the deal. This is the ring on her finger. The bouquet makes her the queen of the Festival, and the men roll the cart around while she waves at all her friends in pure delight.
This is terrible, absolutely terrible. This is the icing on the cake of her dream day, Li Jie’s Giselle is shining with pride and joy. I watched the Li Jie-Jason performance twice, and on the first night I started crying here. For the second performance, I told myself Please, I don’t think you’ll cry again, since you know what comes next. But I was totally swept up in the emotions, in that beautiful unreal dream Giselle was having, contrasted with doubt about whether Albrecht had any feelings for her, and I found tears rolling down my cheeks and dripping down my face (not like a tear at a time only) – and I could not move to wipe them away until I tasted salt and suddenly realised I really was crying. A broken waterspout.
Okay, now the friends have to dance. I like their dancing. Feet fast zipping open and close, and I love it when they have arms in third and one leg raised in attitude before them and then they rise on pointe and daintily hop forward, and progress towards the front of the stage in that manner. It’s super graceful and beautiful. It’s different choreography from the usual: plies, lots of attitudes. A friend (as she always does) noticed Minegishi Kana’s very graceful dancing. I thought that Sun Hong Lei had also distinguished herself in this dance.
Now we have the others joining in too, I think. The men! They’re pretty good, and it’s awesome to see such a huge crowd. I love it when they leap across the stage in fours – Shan Del Vecchio cuts a fabulous figure leaping high across the stage. It’s also good to see so many new faces (girls and guys) dancing. Think that while the friends dance, the village couples in the background dance in lovely pairs, the girls lifted, beaming, to sit on shoulders.
I think the couple then end up dancing amidst them, and they face each other, hands together, as if they’re about to kiss.
But Hilarion’s not having any of that! He runs in and separates them before they can kiss, and he mockingly introduces himself grandly to Mr A, the nobleman. This startles and confuses Giselle. Why is Hilarion acting as if Mr A is a royal of a different class? You can imagine this is not what she had in mind: she would marry him, they would stay in the village together forever, et cetera. Li Jie’s Giselle very clearly has never set foot outside the village and has already visualised her life ahead with Mr A just as she visualised her betrothal to him. Royals are on another plane altogether.
Mr A quickly puts his arm about Giselle and seeks to reassure her. There’s no good way to rationalise this behavior except that he must really think there’s some way about it, either by ditching his noble betrothed (likely Kenya’s way) or smoothing it over eventually by closing his eyes so it all goes away, maybe Wilfred will fix it, I really kinda like this girl (Jason’s way). When Jason earnestly reassures Giselle, you still aren’t quite sure where he sits on this matter since he’s so half-past six, but he’s surprisingly not slimy about it. It’s just his body language, perhaps, that saves him from appearing slimy.
Giselle breaks away from him to see what Hilarion is up to and Mr A sweeps her away quickly but you can see Li Jie really believes Mr A quite fast, she smiles, reassured and completely unshakeable in her faith in Mr A. Chihiro is more unsettled though her Mr A is swimming in love for her – but she eventually comes round to the idea. And as they hold one another’s hands and Mr A proclaims his love, Hilarion lays the great heavy cross of the sword across their hands. Instead of being the priest who joins their hands together before the cross as in Romeo and Juliet, he sunders them with this blade, metaphorically. He believes himself to be the conscience and the truth but you can see him burning up inside with jealousy. The path to hell, after all, is paved with good intentions. Maybe he has convinced himself it is best for Giselle that she knows now. No, let’s face it, Kensuke’s Hilarion just can’t stand seeing them together. This great cross is a mirror of the great cross-arms that Berthe had used to mime for us the story of the Willis. That great foreshadowing comes back to haunt us all.
Giselle can’t believe it – it can’t be true – but her young man’s response is instead to grab the sword and turn it around on Hilarion and pursue him across the stage. Stop, stop, cries Giselle – oh, you can see the world shatter like glass over Chihiro’s head. It’s obvious that this is nothing within her sweet Giselle’s contemplation; that for her, this is where the madness begins. In that moment you immediately see how this looks to her because – crucially – her Mr A is so loving that there is no way he could have been lying to her, but now he is evidently raving mad and out of his mind, and destroying every single joy that she has felt before. This is not the man she knows, oh god what is real now.
Anyway, Hilarion puts a stop to all this by grabbing the hunting horn and blowing it. And Mr A halts – for Jason, you can totally see him freeze up in absolute oh god no – and then there is the answering horn.
Jason Carter’s Mr A drops, tosses the sword with a flat clatter – now we’re sunk! – and he stalks away, and as he stands frozen to the right of the stage, still turned towards Hilarion and Giselle and everyone else, the giant words “OH SH**” appear above his head as if he has been changed into a meme, and you can practically see that a bucket of freezing cold water has been dumped over his head. He stands like a man caught in a lie, the water running down his hair, chilled to the ends of his nerves; a man who is feeling the long cold shadow of the consequences of his careless behaviour fall over him.
Kenya’s Mr A drops the sword with a loud clang, angrily. Hilarion has destroyed all hopes of any happiness. He stalks away – and he turns his back on the others. His brow darkens – there is fury, misery at his real life creeping back to haunt him at his happiest, and yes, there is shame, which is why he cannot look at Giselle. He loves her so, and he is so, so ashamed also of having forgotten his fiancee, his obligations, everything that is so faraway now.
Now the nobles have returned, puzzled at having been summoned. Mr A must turn to greet them, for the Prince is here. He must also allow Bathilde to hook her hand in hers, and walk her some distance.
Bathilde is taken aback by how strange Mr A looks. She circles him. No noble cloak? Dressed like a peasant, and stripped of his sword? She asks him where he has been, since he missed the wine-tasting; and then he must lie. Oh (haha) I was out hunting and then I forgot about it entirely. (ETA: Sorry, apparently Albrecht tells Bathilde he’s playing a game?…)
Then they walk to the side and she looks to him for affirmation of love, and now he has no choice (!) but to kiss her hand. Kenya, whose Mr A was so madly and passionately in love with Chihiro’s Giselle, is now dutiful and passionless in kissing Bathilde’s hand.
Jason, whose Mr A was fond of Giselle but obviously also enjoying his holiday rather than drunk on love, is curiously – distant when he kisses Bathilde’s hand, and he does it as if he simply has no choice and almost wishes he were not there and did not have to do so. And when I went home on Friday night and reflected on the entire Li Jie-Jason Carter Giselle show, it was evident that this was because of the stark contrast between the warm-hearted Giselle, who is playful (think back on the kissing dance) and answers his flirtations with her warm, open affection and ready love – and Bathilde, the product of her noble upbringing, who – like Jason’s Mr A – is a little distant, and so noble that she holds herself upright and does not lean against his shoulder even when her hand is tucked into the crook of his elbow, because emotion is so … common.
Jason’s Mr A is starting to realise this difference and is starting to feel its impact on his heart, which Kenya’s Mr A has probably already felt loooong ago.
Now we come to the crossroads.
Li Jie’s Version of the Mad Scene
Giselle, who had sought refuge in her mother’s embrace when things got pointy, has been watching, aghast- and she dashes forward and throws her arms and weight upon the joined hands of Bathilde and Albrecht, in horrified anger and almost petulant disbelief: What is this? How can you be doing this? she demands, of them both – but her accusations are mainly directed at Bathilde. Her first instinct is not quite to fault Albrecht.
Bathilde says: He’s my betrothed.
Giselle says: NO! He’s my betrothed!
As they stare at each other and then the horrible truth dawns on Giselle, that Albrecht has been lying to her, and that everything that went before was completely false. All that she has dreamed has come to an end. It’s here that everything falls completely apart for Li Jie’s Giselle, whose timing is impeccable – she breaks away from Bathilde and Albrecht, she tears the necklace off (that damned necklace, you can feel it burning into her skin) – she flings it to the ground by Bathilde’s feet, and she dashes to her mother – and in a likely not-planned move on Friday night, Li Jie gave a convulsive jerk and threw back her head as she plunged towards her mother, and there was so much anguish in that – and then she collapsed onto the stage.
Her mother loosens her hair from its bun and everyone is terrified that she has died. But she suddenly wakes and pushes her mother away and dashes to the centre of the stage, bowing her head and clapping her hands to her ears. Li Jie’s Giselle has opted for long hair that runs in riotous mad curls down her shoulder blades, a lovely disheveled choice. You will see a totally different emotional choice for Chihiro’s Giselle’s hair, which is equally delightful.
Li Jie’s Giselle is a mad, mad Giselle whose downfall began from the moment she opened her front door and fell in love. That is the root of her (and the audience’s) heartbreak.
Then we hear the music for Giselle’s solo begin, and, very slowly, and not even in time to the beat of the music, Li Jie raises her head as the solo begins. It’s perfect timing, and the perfect expression of emotion through her movements (and I watched two performances).
You can see that Giselle is waking up again, to the day’s events. The dream is starting again, but it’s in a cold and lonely world, one which only Giselle inhabits. I will set out, not necessarily in chronological order, the things Giselle does in her madness.
She runs round the circle of peasants, staring into their faces. She looks at them, but she does not seem to recognise them or even engage with them, and they terrify her. They are the faces of people who have watched her be crowned, then watch her tumble from her perch – these are faces whom, in her madness, she does not find friendly – faces that are not real, they are a distant dream-like audience, and she tears away from them. She dances a weak parody of her morning’s dance: the lifted hand and flower, which she follows with her eyes.
She drops to the ground before us and starts plucking the flower petals: one, he loves me, I put that gently on my skirt; one, he doesn’t love me – no, no – no he doesn’t love me, and the memory drives her into a frenzy of head-shaking, and she leaps up.
Jason’s Mr A is in the background, distraught but also unsettled because he is a noble who has not yet realised that he might actually love her, and because she is mad. Let it be known that Bathilde is also terribly shaken by Mr A’s behaviour, and she draws close to her father, and almost seems to ask omg can I break off the engagement! She is clearly miserable, and the nobles huddle together. If Mr A wants to approach Giselle, he is held back by his own uncertainty (aimai), by convention, by the presence of the other nobles, and by Wilfred, his trusty aide who wants to protect him from himself and Giselle.
The thing is, nobody wants to go near a mad person. So the villagers watch, uncertain and unfamiliar with this new Giselle. Also, she lashes out at anyone who approaches – in this case, Mr A does try to approach her, despite Wilfred, and she recoils and shudders and staggers away.
Then there is Giselle collapsing; then there is Giselle getting up and very clearly chasing a butterfly, in the air, as it flutters first to our right, then our left. Perhaps this is also a parody of the morning’s dance when she tells Mr A, I really must get going, and darts to the sides in a futile but also not entirely sincere attempt to get away from the handsome gentleman.
You feel Giselle’s emotions, and you understand how she feels – you almost become Giselle, alone in this nightmare dream world which replays the morning’s events; and you cry and cry because Giselle had the absolute best day a simple peasant girl could ever dream of, and it was all false. It really helps that Albrecht lingers at the edges of this world and the villagers hang back, because that increases that feeling of isolation. You can really see that Giselle is in her own mind, in her own world.
Partway through her meanderings round the villagers, she stumbles upon the sword and you realise that you’d totally forgotten it! and it is new to her too, and she grabs it and then she starts swinging it round at the villagers and the nobles, who realise it’s time for them to leave, and who hastily do so, subdued and saddened by what Albrecht has done – but also probably thinking they’ll leave this mad girl to the village (what a tragedy; oh well, these commoners, this wasn’t a very nice Festival after all).
It’s a heavy sword, or at least leans at a threatening angle when she holds it, and then she holds it by the blade and points it at her throat, and you can almost see the blood running down her arms – but Albrecht intervenes, seizing the sword by the blade and taking it from her while Wilfred … catches her arm? I do not know. Albrecht throws the sword aside.
At last Giselle sees him, and looks straight at him properly where previously she has simply lashed out and pushed him away. She backs away quickly, madly, covering her mouth – she is laughing at him, giggling and jerking her head up and down really quickly and unnaturally, and her hair wiggles. It is ugly, and it is discomfiting, and it is jarring and you will hate it and ask yourself: what the heck is this, what is the point of this, she looks terrible, I was all comfortable crying and now I’m going whuuut?!!
And o, that is absolutely the point of it all. She is mad, and that is ugly, and it makes you uncomfortable. The mad scene is not for you to sit back with popcorn and feel chill and relaxed. It is to stab you when you least expect it, and that is the madness that keeps the other peasants back. Perhaps they are not sad, they are scared. This was not supposed to be how the pretty, lively girl with the weak heart died. It is an unexpected choice to be ugly mad.
I remember there’s a point where she returns to the centre of the stage, a dreamy expression on her face, and Jason-Mr A positions himself beside her hopefully, as he did in the beginning, but more gently, as if he’s ready to dance with her too. At this stage you can tell that he does like her, after all, and he’s sorry, and he wants to spend time with her.
Giselle leans slightly to her left, and clasps her hands by her ear, at such a cunning angle you can’t tell if she’s almost hooking her arm through his, or she’s putting her head against his shoulder. Then she starts dancing lightly, away from him, in her own dream world with an invisible partner, and leaves Mr A behind, to his surprise. Such beautiful, controlled moves, the genteel leg lifts. It’s heartbreaking.
Then she starts dancing more quickly, more maniacally – she tosses her head about, her wild curly hair flying – again you feel terribly discomfited and a little frightened because you have no idea what’s going to happen – and then suddenly she freezes, and you can see the shock in her face, in how she stands, hands pressed to her heart. You can hear the thudding of her breaking heart overhead in the music, and her body convulses terribly. She’s like a rag doll; she’s dying.
But she revives somehow, and after one more frenzied moment in centrestage (during which Albercht approaches her in his desire to help her), she practically flees from Albercht and falls straight into the arms of the waiting Hilarion, beside the well, bent limply back right over in his arms. (Thank you, Hilarion, for bearing the dead weight of Giselle on your arm. Without a trustworthy Hilarion like Kensuke to bear the weight of both the Giselles, they would not have been able to appear so accurately dead.)
Everyone is about to burst out wailing when she rouses herself one last time, and Hilarion helps her, and oh, he points to her mother, comforting her: look, her beloved mother is there, she will be safe there (or leastways, she should die in her mother’s arms). And so Giselle, gathering the last of her energy and willpower, sprints straight to her beloved mother’s arms, into which she collapses.
Almost immediately, she wakes up and she seems almost normal for a fraction of a heartbeat. She’s well again, everyone thinks, thank heaven – but no, she turns runs straight to the centre of the stage, in a fevered mania, and Albrecht catches her and raises her up; and her heart gives, and she falls into his embrace, then slides gently out of his arms and onto the ground.
What perfect timing. I cried so badly when she ran to her mother, at that last moment. It was so beautiful it was terrible.
Anyway, now of course her mother rushes forward. They discover Giselle has died. Albrecht immediately turns on Hilarion for driving Giselle mad. Hilarion says: “Was it I? You broke her heart.”
The guy’s got a point. But Albrecht, in his rage, pickpockets Hilarion’s dagger out of his belt and threatens him. Horrified, Wilfred efficiently disarms Albrecht. Hilarion berates him, and because Hilarion is correct, Albrecht leaves, shaken, feeling deeply guilty. Trusty Wilfred wraps the cloak about him and walks him away (exit to the audience’s right).
Everyone is now gathered about the body in shock. Ladies cover their faces, men look downcast, and Hilarion throws his head back and wails.
Chihiro’s Version of the Mad Scene
The choreography is much the same. What I shall describe are the differences in action and effect.
Chihiro’s Giselle is not so much furious or petulant or shocked as she is ripped to shreds when she sees her beloved Kenya-Mr A holding hands with Bathilde. Remember, she started going mad from the moment the swordfight began. She had an inkling that something was not quite right the moment her hearts-for-eyes-only Mr A morphed into a sword wielding tempest. Now she cannot imagine what is happening to her, to her world, and her face is a terrifyingly expresive wail when she breaks between them wildly. You can practically hear her wailing aloud and bursting into heart-wrenching tears.
When she glances at Mr A, she knows the truth, and Bathilde confirms it, and she flees to her mother.
Let’s talk about hair choices. When Giselle next gets to her feet, her hair is down. I think this choice of hair works well for Chihiro’s Giselle just as Li Jie’s worked for her. She has a terrific haircut, shorn to her collarbone and light and wispy. It is exactly right for what Chihiro’s Giselle is, which is an intense, emotionally-charged performance in which you feel pathos for the pretty, pitiful Giselle in her downward spiral. Chihiro’s dancing is light, fragile, delicate.
Chihiro’s Giselle doesn’t wake immediately to the music. A couple of notes pass before she starts to look up, and I think that’s a different way of building tension.
I consciously forced myself to see what Mr A was up to in this version, because he was supposed to really love Giselle. Mr A stalks about in the background, distressed and desirous of getting close to Giselle. Whenever Giselle’s emotions crescendo, their impact on the peasants and on the scene is bolstered and magnified because Mr A is equally devastated. His devastation, lingering on the fringes of your vision, helps you imagine how the rest of the peasants might be reacting.
As a result, where Li Jie’s madness plays out in the quiet, solitary world of her mind, Chihiro’s madness plays out in a world where it engages the peasants and colours the corners of the stage. Both versions have their own uses. This is just a thought. You may experience something different, batteries are sold separately. Both do appear mad anyway, and that’s not easy.
So we enter the realm of Giselle running round the ring of peasants. Chihiro’s Giselle mouths gibberish to herself (! a very clever touch), and when she looks at the peasants she seems to be looking straight at them, as if she is talking to them.
When she starts plucking flower petals, she goes through the motions with full emotions: nodding and smiling at a good petal, throwing away a bad one.
Mr A is supposed to be in the background watching. Jason’s Mr A looked a little hopeful and expectant, which is why we know he kind of likes Giselle. Kenya’s Mr A nods along vigorously as Giselle counts the petals. Mr A is always hoping Giselle will regain her memory (rolls eyes – it’s his fault she’s in this state). He’s very active and dramatic.
Giselle does not actually laugh in the laughing scene. She covers her mouth and looks as if she’s crying, though she breaks into tiny giggles at the end. She’s a fragile Giselle, which is why when she grasps the sword, it’s quite terrifying and she really looks as if she might stab herself with it. Mr A is the noble noble (pun intended) who leaps to her rescue, distress distorting his features. You actually feel sorry for him when she fake-leans against his shoulder as if she’s going to dance with him; he looks so briefly hopefully happy and pleased, and you almost forget she’s going to leave him in the lurch (as he did her, hmph).
We fastforward to the moment where she is about to die, the one where she swings through the centre and heads straight for Hilarion, who is talking to a peasant girl about how dreadful this all is but then right at the last moment, spots Chihiro heading for the well and runs to the correct spot so she can fling herself into a dead faint in his arms. That’s well-timed and I wonder if it was planned just-so.
At the very end, when Giselle finally throws herself out of her mother’s arms and runs to the centre of the stage where the hopeful Albrecht waits for her and catches her up and raises her to the sky and she reaches up to touch it, what is brilliant, absolutely brilliant, is that Albrecht actually holds her up but even before he can embrace her, she slips out of his embrace as he wraps his arms together, and she slides to the ground so he catches empty air.* Oh, I’ve got chills as I write that. What a brilliant touch. Tears spring to the eyes.
*A great deal of this is seen in Act 2, especially at the end. The number of times a move is repeated by the same person or by someone else but to different effect (foreshadowing? symmetry?) is pretty high. In Act 2, Mr A ends up lying down and getting up just about as many times as Giselle (take that, Albrecht!), and where she once danced herself to death, he almost gets danced to death, too.
I shall end on this note because if not, the post will be too long. Also, I want to start the next one on the question of Albrecht(s).