Review: A 'Giselle' to remember

Balletomanes in the ornate lobby of the San Francisco War Memorial seemed busy Saturday evening, discussing what will happen in a few days.

Instead of focusing on the business at hand, the opening of the “Giselle” revival with the “A cast,” talk was all about the coming role debut Tuesday of Bolshoi's/Royal Ballet's Maria Kochetkova, to be partnered by Joan Boada.

A promising show, indeed, but in the meanwhile, Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets danced Giselle and Albrecht for the ages, surrounded by fine soloists and a spectacular corps de ballet.

All in all, it was a wonderful performance of a classic, which is beginning to look like once again what Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and – above all – Marius Petipa had wrought.

It wasn't always so.

When San FranciscoBallet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson first put his stamp on “Giselle” in 1999 _ responsible for both production and the choreography “after Petipa,” etc. _ I found “a static, slow, impersonal, Icelandic stirring of white tutus, the lovers never connecting, time running out on the impassive, uncaring willies, Giselle leaving, Alberich surviving… If you can't get romantic with `Giselle,' what does it take to do the trick?”

Apparently, it takes time. In eight years, much has happened, all for the good.

From the first act story ballet (sliced and diced just right) through the second act's white ballet, all went swimmingly, and this time the finale had not only Tan's and Helimets’ athletic strength and superb artistry, but also a romantic, heartbreaking connection with each other and the audience.

This grown-up, re-revised “Giselle” speaks to the heart.

Maturity and growth also were clearly discernible in Tan's performance. Always an exceptional prima ballerina, this time she was Giselle herself – playful, lovely, romantic at first, literally heartbroken upon betrayal, becoming a selfless, forgiving, guardian angel in the end.  Tan couldn't have had a better partner than young Helimets, in his debut as the first-flirting, later-heroic Albrecht.

Tall, slender, and strong (without being muscle-bound), the princely Estonian turned in a flawless performance in a role which occasionally presents the pitfall of being a potted plant in the background.

Damian Smith's Hilarion and Anita Paciotti's Berthe were classical and restrained, Sofiane Sylve's flawless Myrtha all that but on the cold side. Sure, the role demands a meanie, but still …

On the other hand, the Act 1 Peasant Pas de Cinq was warm-to-hot – Clara Blanco, Frances Chung, Elizabeth Miner partnered gallantly by Nicolas Blanc and Pascal Molat (both fine potential Albrechts).

Chung and Miner returned in Act 2, happily, as solo Wilis. (Wonder how that looks on a resume?)

Under Martin West's baton, the Ballet Orchestra delivered the goods, Paul Ehrlich's viola solo helping to set up the atmosphere for Act 2.  And now, on to Tuesday’s performance, and, returning on Wednesday, the Tan/Helimets cast again… or how about Thursday, and Kristin Long, with Gennadi Nedvigin? There are riches aplenty.

IF YOU GO

Giselle

Where: San Francisco Ballet, War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday, closes Feb. 24

Tickets: $28 to $250

Contact: (415) 865-2000 or www.sfballet.org

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