Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s production of Giselle is a thrilling blend of dancing and acting. After a challenging pandemic-filled year that forced the company to find alternative stages, it is a joy to have them return home to Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts to kick off the 2021–22 season, their 43rd. Thankfully, for those more comfortable watching from home, they are also live streaming each performance. This is the first time they have performed Giselle, Gautier’s 1841 romantic ballet, with Artistic Director Nicole Kelsch directing the choreography, based on the original by Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, and Marius Petipa. This review covers Cast 1.
Lauren Martinez captures Giselle’s changing emotional state throughout the ballet. In the beginning, she joyfully skips across the stage. In the famous “mad scene” she runs frantically to the other characters, gripping her head in her hands and wildly dragging Albrecht’s sword. As a Wili, she dominates the stage with leaps, spins, and leg extensions.
Martinez’s powerful connection with Ryan Massey as Albrecht helps convey the story of their relationship, with her trying to run away at first and him holding her. Later, they link arms and prance across the stage. In the end, he lifts and spins her with great physicality. Massey also does well solo, twirling and leaping with great power. At the ballet’s end, he kneels alone, the sadness clear on his face.
Mark McCormack gives great drama to Hilarion, Albrecht’s rival for Giselle’s love. He steps in between the lovers, breaking them apart and showing Albrecht’s sword to the peasants. Catherine Welch plays Giselle’s mother Berthe with a quiet strength, pulling Martinez away and trying to embrace her during her madness. Richard Link and Madeline Jones give an imperial air to the Duke and Bathilde, Albrecht’s intended.
In the peasant pas de deux, Emily Carey and Isaac Martinez are a joy to watch, twirling, leaping, and lifting both together and separately. Giselle’s friends (Caroline Anderson, Cindy Case, Carrie Cornelius, Karissa Kralik, Brenna Mazzara, and Madison Sweeney) create lovely lines as they move in formation across the stage.
Lindsey Bell gives a commanding presence to Myrtha, queen of the Wilis as she glides around the stage, directing the spirits of betrayed women to seek revenge. The Wilis (Caroline Anderson, Destiny Billot, Victoria Siracusa, Olivia Fohsz, Madison Sweeney, Clara Molina, Hannah Hanson, Mia Koshansky, Amanda Cobb, Rowan Treece, Brenna Mazzara, Cassandra Hope, Meredith Hardin, Carrie Cornelius, Victoria Walpole, Marjorie O’Hearne, Celia Merritt, and Catherine Welch ) bring a fierce anger and passion that is frightening as they force the men who wronged them to madly dance.
The set design, by Aaron Bauer and Manassas Ballet Theatre, helps set the mood, with two small cottages on either side of the stage in Act 1 and a backdrop of lakes and green hills. Chairs, a table, and a bench are pulled onstage when necessary. In Act 2, a large gravestone in the left-hand corner draws the eye, with a dark backdrop of woods and a full moon. Fog rolling onto the stage completes the spooky atmosphere.
Lighting Designer Stacie Johnson-Leske helps add to the changing mood in each act: Act 1 is filled with sunny light, while the stage is darker and dimmer for Act 2. Costume Designers Karissa Kralik, Karen Kralik, and Caroline Anderson have created outfits to fit each character’s personality. Giselle begins in a white skirt and green top, as do her friends, and ends in a white dress. Albrecht starts with a green cloak and a brown vest, ending in a black shirt with white collar. Berthe wears a long white dress and green corset, while Myrtha has a white dress and gold tiara. The Duke is royal with a gold cape and black fur cap, as is Bathilde in a golden and red gown. The Wilis look spectral in white lace wedding gowns and veils.
Nicole Kelsch does a wonderful job restaging, creating beautiful symmetry in the duets and lovely movements among the solos and group dances. The performers navigate the stage and each other well, and even when not dancing, convey drama and emotion. Only two performances remain, so be sure to catch it, either in-person or online!
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, including a 15-minute intermission.
Giselle plays through October 24, 2021, at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts – 801 Chase Street in Annapolis, MD – and is also available for online viewing. For both in-person and virtual tickets, please visit Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s website.