The Matsuyama Ballet's highly stylized, picture-perfect "Giselle" showed that the company is of international stature while remaining distinctly Japanese in ways that "Mandala," its original work, which opened the company's Kennedy Center run, did not. It is a "Giselle" of extraordinary physical beauty that, while flawlessly danced, is emotionally restrained, and its first performance Saturday night seemed more a reenactment.
In the production, company choreographer, director and star dancer Tetsutaro Shimizu and Yoshiaki Tonozaki reproduce the same steps and story that have been performed around the world off and on since 1841. The few choreographic changes they've made are mostly in the corps' dances and groupings, and they're enhancements. Whether peasants in Act 1 or ghosts in Act 2, the corps is nearly never lined up in regimental rows, but settles prettily around the edges of the action in little groups that ripple and rustle as the story unfolds. Naoji Kawaguchi's lush and lovely sets are so detailed that every leaf in the forest looks individually painted; Tomoko Morita and Shimizu's costumes are not only gorgeous but drape the dancers' bodies gracefully; and Toshihiko Tonozaki's ghoulish lighting is as close to gaslight as any of us in this neon century are likely to see.
The dancing too, whether of corps or soloist, captured all the period externals faultlessly. Heads were impishly tilted, arms were held modestly low, hands and fingers fluttered, feet always landed cleanly in position. Yoko Morishita, the company's internationally acclaimed medal winner and ballerina, danced a very correct, standard interpretation of the title role: loving, playful maiden in the first act; loving, feathery-light ghost in the second. Shimizu's Albrecht was similarly prototypical. He reacted to situations -- now amorous, now grieving -- without ever giving a hint of his concept of the character. Kazuhiro Kaneda was a noble Hilarion; Mayumi Eda a sweetly maternal Berthe.
Hiroko Kurata as Myrtha, queen of the Wilis, was stately, though hardly malevolent. The Wilis were as light and lovely as one could wish. They danced as one, without ever looking mechanical or clonelike. Kumi Hiramoto and Shoichiro Sadamatsu danced the peasant pas de deux impeccably. Like everyone else in this production, however, they flashed smiles as part of the costume; their dancing lacked joy.
The company's aesthetic seems to be that it is the artist's duty to reproduce something perfect perfectly without individual embellishment, and while that might admirably suit a purely classical work like "Sleeping Beauty," where the process is more important than the story, it is at odds with the dramatic, Romantic "Giselle." In this tale of love, betrayal, madness and ghostly redemption, the struggle of the individual is at its very soul, and that's what's missing from the Matsuyama's "Giselle." There is no edge to this serene and harmonious production. It's all beauty, and no danger.