Dresden Semperoper Ballett: Giselle

Semperoper, Dresden
July 6, 2015

David Dawson's Giselle Raphael Coumes-Marquet as Albrecht, here with Julia Weiss as Giselle Photo Ian Whalen

David Dawson’s Giselle
Raphael Coumes-Marquet as Albrecht (here with Julia Weiss as Giselle)
Photo Ian Whalen

As Albrecht in David Dawson’s Giselle, Raphaël Coumes-Marquet ended his performing career in the best possible way. The ballet is as much Albrecht’s story as Giselle’s. In Act Two he comes to terms with his betrayal and, comforted by the memories of Giselle’s love, he finds peace and salvation. This onstage role equates in some way with his professional situation, though thankfully less traumatic, as he leaves the stage to find a new life as one of the company’s ballet masters.

Coumes-Marquet gave a magnificent performance in the role he created in 2008 and has developed over the years. The final moment, as the moon eclipses and Giselle slips from his embrace to disappear in a shower of petals, held the audience spellbound. Dresden audiences do not habitually leap to their feet but on this occasion they stood spontaneously joining in the waves of affection emanating from the company on stage and enveloping a great dancer closing a remarkably successfully career.

David Dawson’s Giselle takes some mental adjustment for those reared on traditional versions. The minimal setting in Act One, bright and clean, lays bare the emotions offering no shelter in cottage or behind foliage, while in Act Two the air is filled with flying, floating spirits rather than ordered lines in romantic tutus. Arne Walther’s deep blue sculpted surround and a misty moon, magically lit by Bert Dalhuysen, opens the stage for some of Dawson’s finest ballet choreography. The dancers skim the floor at high speed and take to the air as limbs extend into the darkness finding the ebb and flow of the music in dynamics both thrilling and satisfying. With the later musical additions removed only the sweetness of Adolphe Adam’s melodies remains.

Throughout, the choreography finds new interesting accents. The style is ebullient in Act One, which particularly remains recognisably rooted in neo-classicism, and ethereal in Act Two.

The inclusion of a wedding party helps to carry the narrative. Alice Mariani, a radiant bride gave an intensely musical interpretation of her gentle, lyrical solo while István Simon displayed a tremendous jump in his virtuoso display.

Raphael Coumes-Marquet in Giselle. Photo Costin Radu

Raphael Coumes-Marquet in Giselle
Photo Costin Radu

In the emotionally charged atmosphere the passion was palpable. When Giselle, Duosi Zhu, catches the bride’s bouquet her joy is overwhelming. However at the height of the celebrations, Bathilde, a supremely sexy Jenni Schäferhoff and her gang arrive. Hilarion (a solid performance from Laurent Guilbaud), rips Albrecht’s shirt to expose the tattoos that mark him as one of them and his betrayal hits Giselle like a thunderbolt. The action is fast paced and whether she dies of a weak heart or stabs herself on his knife remains ambiguous but the rain of red cherry blossoms suggests blood and adds to the drama. Her death is as poignant as any traditional version with the themes of love and betrayal central and timeless.

Act Two is an absolutely plausible contemporary revision. The dark recesses of Albrecht’s troubled mind are as frightening as any ghost-haunted forest. In Yumiko Takeshima’s cleverly conceived drapes the faces of the Wilis are masked while legs and arms are free to follow the organic flow of the choreography. Myrtha, Sangeun Lee, an airborne will o’ the wisp, combining power and grace, introduces the band of spirits. Giselle joins them and later removes her veil to reveal herself to Albrecht becoming, for the moment, the women he knew. The theme of linking arms that characterises their relationship in Act One is again used in the pas de deux that seals their love eternal and Albrecht is gradually released from his torment.

This is not a Giselle of good and evil, black and white but rather of flawed human beings who make wrong choices with devastating consequences. Coumes-Marquet brings great depth to the role: dancing with Giselle he never misses an opportunity, each glance and gesture endorsing his love. His unmasking leaves him bereft of direction as he flounders in a sea of despair. Act Two is a slow journey to salvation and the audience were with him every step of the way to the final cathartic moment. It was a performance to cherish.