Semperoper, Dresden, Germany; April 22, 2014
Yumiko Takeshima burst onto the stage with such youthful radiance, it was hard to believe I was watching her final performance. A dancer renowned for her speed, precision and virtuosity, she is not a Giselle in the traditional mould – but then neither is David Dawson’s ballet in the traditional mould. He created the role for her and Raphaël Coumes-Marquet as Albrecht in 2008 and it made a fitting climax to an illustrious career to see them together on the Dresden Semperoper stage.
Dawson takes the essence of the story: love, betrayal, death, a cathartic resolution and ultimate peace and tells the tale in ballet of the 21st century. Takeshima’s Giselle is a feisty young woman who expresses her love of life and passion for Albrecht in joyful dance. Their pas de deux, danced to a new arrangement of Adam’s music by David Coleman, expresses their love in entwining arms and bodies, and ecstatic lifts.
The setting is nominally timeless – simple frocks, trousers and shirts, but the social order is contemporary. Dawson’s Giselle does not need to steal a kiss hidden from mother’s watchful eye and they are free to embrace with abandon.
Where little is forbidden, Albrecht’s secret life is harder to justify. Indeed his striking tattoo denoting gang member ship is both exciting and attractive. His duplicity, a fault that in two less idealistic characters might have been shrugged off, becomes the pivotal concern. Giselle dies and Albrecht collapses torn apart by guilt and despair. The scene is set for the Act II where Dawson shows his true choreographic strength.
In the moonlit glade, design, choreography and interpretation come together to create great art. In what must be a unique event, Takeshima has created both the leading role and the costumes, those for the wilis being a stroke of genius. The dancers’ heads and arms are shrouded in a mist of chiffon leaving the legs free to express Dawson’s etched neo-classical lines. Elena Vostrotina danced the Queen of the Wilis, a role she too created in 2008. Like Takeshima her body is an ideal vehicle for his choreography, and he uses her extraordinary length and hyperextension in an embodiment of the legendary will o-the-wisp: her grande jeté, a chimera of white mist as she launches across the darkened stage.
In Albrecht’s troubled mind the spirits fly restlessly. Dawson at times moulds the wilis into ordered ranks but most often they seem to move in uninhibited and spontaneous patterns. Giselle joins their ranks with an initiation solo, Takeshima sculpting her exuberance into dignified beauty. Albrecht senses her presence in their midst and she discards her veil to reveal her identity. They greet with a simple and intensely human gesture, clasping hands as they stand side by side before launching into a passionate duet.
In this act, Albrecht makes the journey from remorse to reconciliation and in the duets and expressive solos he comes to terms with his emotions. Coumes-Marquet reaches the depth and the heights in Dawson’s elegiac choreography, gentle and intense in equal measure. Peace comes at the end as Giselle sinks back into the earth in a shower of cherry blossoms.
The company rose to the occasion as expected. Jiří Bubeníček’s Hilarion is a no-nonsense rival, strong, angry and ready to take on both Albrecht and his gang. Thankfully he does not die in Act II: it always seems such an unjust end. The high spirited wedding party, which provides the context and develops the theme of true-love gives excellent material for the soloists, Alice Mariani, Jón Vallejo, Claudio Cangialosi, Chantelle Kerr and Arika Togawa. It was left to Julia Weiss (Bathilde) and her saturnine mafia to spoil the party; which she did with commanding authority.
This was one of those faultless evenings in the theatre as Yumiko Takeshima, with Raphaël Coumes-Marquet, her partner in so many of Dawson’s creations, and surrounded by colleagues, danced a triumphant last performance.