The ballet’s peasant heroine and her energetic young friends could very well be dancing under a banner reading, “We Are the 99 Percent.” And who is Albrecht, the nobleman whose betrayal drives Giselle to her death, but a predatory 1-percenter?
If linking this 1841 work to the Zuccotti Park and McPherson Square encampments seems like a stretch, consider that the romantic movement was born in the aftermath of the American and French revolutions. Surely Thomas Jefferson would have loved this ballet, which shows the aristocracy preying on the common folk, sweeping into a village and demanding to be served, and elevates a simple girl into a moral and spiritual savior.
In the Paris Opera Ballet’s exquisitely clear storytelling, drawing closely on the original, you feel some of that revolutionary energy. (The company’s historical ties to the premiere by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot is a point of understandable pride; a program note tells us that Thursday’s performance was the troupe’s 760th.) It’s in the character of Hilarion, the gamekeeper who loves Giselle and tries to warn her of Albrecht’s deception.
One of the chief pleasures of this production is that this often minimized role, the third point of a tragic love triangle, comes to the fore with righteous zeal, especially as danced Thursday by Vincent Chaillet. We saw him process all the clues and act on his conclusion, looking Albrecht square in the eye as he denounces him in front of the crowd. Even the music palpitates at this moment. Consider Hilarion the balletic godfather of individualism.
Bright, fresh energy coursed through the entire cast. It has been 19 years since the Paris Opera Ballet last performed here, and I have relished the memories of the dancers’ willowy physiques, beautifully shaped feet and musical sensitivity ever since. All that is present, but the dancers’ buoyancy surprised me. How uniformly light and airborne they were, from the corps dancers to the stars.
There was an extraordinary level of excellence in all ranks and a thorough familiarity with the romantic ballet style: the suppleness of the torso; the softened, modest proportions. The sheer human grandeur, expressed in the simplest ways, had this hardened critic near tears at several points. One of them was a choreographic feat I’ve seen a hundred times, yet never seen before: A pinwheel suddenly materialized out of interlacing rows of dancers like the wind lifting from a field.