‘Giselle’ at The Washington Ballet by Carolyn Kelemen

The Washington Ballet gave us the willies in a haunting production of Giselle on All Hallow’s Eve.

Dressed in midnight black, artistic director Septime Webre bounded onto The Kennedy Center stage just moments before the curtain rose on the Washington Ballet’s Giselle. “It is not the oldest Romantic ballet…but the most perfect,” he told the captive audience. “Giselle has passed from generation to generation and today remains ballet’s ultimate ghost story.”

The Washington Ballet’s Maki Onuki and Brooklyn Mack in 'Giselle.' Photo by Brianne Bland.
The Washington Ballet’s Maki Onuki and Brooklyn Mack in ‘Giselle.’ Photo by Brianne Bland.

However, we have to wait until Act II for the ghostly part of the ballet that is set in a graveyard. In the Washington Ballet’s interpretation of the 1841 classic, you won’t see the traditional, slow entrance from the wings by the Wilis – those spooky maidens whose fiancés failed to marry them before their deaths. Instead, these 24 spirits (from the ranks of The Company, The Washington Ballet Studio Company, and featured dancers of The Washington Ballet Trainee Program) seemingly appear from all corners of the stage to create havoc – strange, yet hauntingly beautiful.

Often it’s the sublime second act that can make or break the reputation of a company. Happily, The Washington Ballet has a splendid, praise-worthy rendition, staged by Charla Genn and Septime Webre. As a result, they have kept the graveyard scene as close as possible to the original ballet, created by poet Theophile Gautier, composer Adolphe Adam, and choreographers Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, with additional contribution by the Russian master Marius Petipa. A nice touch is the dedication in memory of two great Giselles of the 20th century: Eva Evdokimova and Phyllis Spira.

Giselle has been dubbed “the Hamlet of dance,” not merely for its enduring qualities but perhaps because it provides the ballerina with a double challenge to dance and to act. It’s the tale of a simple peasant girl who goes mad and dies, all for the love of an aristocrat who betrays her.

When Maki Onuki enters as a young, spirited Giselle, she skims the floor like a child running on to the playground. In the role of Count Albrecht, Brooklyn Mack demonstrates that same joyousness, not at all like the previous cads portrayed by Rudolf Nureyev, among others. There was true chemistry between the two lovers in the opening night performance. You believe that Albrecht and Giselle genuinely love each other and you could feel it in their dancing. Move over Rudi (Nureyev), there’s a new kid on the block who has captured your fiery technique, great feet, and a dashing presence on stage!

Kudos, too, to Elaine Kudo, Ballet Mistress at The Washington Ballet. It was nice to see her guest appearance as Giselle’s caring mother, especially in the “Mad Scene” where her daughter dances to her death. You could tell from the well-rehearsed corps de ballet, Kudo has been a strong presence in this Giselle. Another nod goes to costume designer Galina Solovyeva for the Autumn-tinged dresses in the peasant dances and the tiny wings attached to the ghostly corps. Maki’s costumes sparkled, and Brooklyn wore gorgeous capes, black silk velvet and purple to denote royalty.

There were comedic touches throughout the ballet. The pantomime was clear, especially when Giselle counts the petals on the flower, “He loves me…he loves me not.” Jared Nelson as Hilarion (who also loves Giselle) proves to be the ultimate villain with his perfect timing for evil antics. His fans applaud this veteran Washington Ballet star for strong dramatic portrayal through dance. The entire company was in fine spirit during the “Festival of the Grapes,” though the wagon looked a bit rickety for Maki who was holding on for dear life. She’s such a feather that we worried she simply might blow off the stage. Jonathan Jordan was amazing in the Peasant Pas de Deux with newcomer Ayano Kimura, he finishing off double turns that tumbled into another brisk and difficult combination. It would be special to see him pull off these variations to live music to compliment his powerful dancing.

In many ways, Giselle could be called the first feminist ballet with Myrta, Queen of the Wilis, best described as a strong woman who won’t back down in punishing the men who have caused heartache. Aurora Dickie was tough on opening night – she never broke character, not even a tiny smile after her amazing solos. When she lifts the branch of Rosemary (a symbol for remembrance, a friend noted), she is firm in her stance. Men who have forsaken their brides-to-be must die. Giselle, meanwhile, stands for her man to the end and keeps him alive by dancing for him. Albrecht is saved when the bells toll four at sunrise, and the Wilis return to their graves.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one intermission.


The Washington Ballet’s Giselle plays at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC – TONIGHT – Friday, November 1st at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, November 2nd at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, November 3rd at 1:30 p.m. For tickets, call the box office (800) 444-1324 or (202)-467-4600, or purchase them online.


Photo by Steve Vaccariello.
Photo by Steve Vaccariello.

PRINCIPAL CASTING (subject to change)

Wed., Oct. 30, Thu., Oct. 31, Sat., Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m.

Maki Onuki (Giselle), Brooklyn Mack (Albrecht), Jared Nelson (Hilarion), and Aurora Dickie (Myrtha)

Fri., Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m. & Sun., Nov. 3 at 6:30 p.m.

Ayano Kimura (Giselle), Jonathan Jordan (Albrecht), Corey Landolt (Hilarion), and Sona Kharatian (Myrtha).

Sat., Nov. 2 at 1:30 p.m.

Aurora Dickie (Giselle), Tamas Krisza (Albrecht), Jared Nelson (Hilarion), Kateryna Derechnya (Myrtha)

Sun., Nov. 3 at 1:30 p.m.

Ekaterina Oleynik (Giselle), Hyun-Woong Kim (Albrecht), Jared Nelson (Hilarion), and Morgann Rose (Myrtha).

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Carolyn Kelemen
Carolyn Kelemen is an award-winning arts critic and feature writer for the Baltimore Sun, Howard County Times, and Columbia Flier - 45 years and counting. The Columbia resident earned her Masters Degree in Dance at Mills College in California and has taught college and graduate courses at Goucher College, Loyola, the College of Notre Dame and Howard Community College. A professional dancer throughout the East Coast in the late 50s and early 60s, she was trained in classical ballet, modern dance, jazz and tap. Her TV/film career includes MPT’s “ weeknight Alive” and years of local productions in the Maryland/DC area. Carolyn is a longtime member of the Dance Critics of America, the American Theatre Critics Association. She has proudly produced the “A Labor of Love” AIDS benefits since 1988.


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