A National Ballet sneak peek

«Let’s begin!» Irek Mukha-medov was on the stage of the Olympia Theater, waiting. Everything was ready for the first rehearsal of Adolphe Adam’s ballet «Giselle.» I found myself somewhere in the back seats, among dancers, giggles and whispers. One of the dancers next to me sat with her legs raised on the chair. In the latest production of the Greek National Opera Ballet, Mukhamedov, its director, is responsible for the choreography, based on the one by Marius Petipa. As the tinkling of the piano filled the room, the rehearsal kicked off and three girls walked onto the stage through the unmade sets. «Stop, stop!» shouted Mukhamedov. «Please open your eyes, you have to imagine the house.» «Please,» he added in perfect Greek. In the meantime, maestro Andreas Tselikas had arrived and started rehearsing by himself. The music of «Giselle» is so lovely that the ballet is worth watching again and again just for that. I sat observing Mukhamedov. With his powerful voice and charming English with a heavy Russian accent, he guided his dancers with firmness yet also with love. He stopped them every once in a while to remind them of small but very important details. Mukhamedov danced the part of Albert in one of the most legendary stagings of «Giselle» with the Royal Ballet in London in 1999, along with the explosive Italian ballerina Viviana Durante. That was the peak moment of his career and everyone was talking about the amazing Russian dancer who had come to London. The plot of the ballet traces the tragic love of village girl Giselle for Count Albrecht, who first appears to her as a farmer. When Giselle discovers her love’s true identity and then finds out that he is engaged to another woman, she goes crazy and then kills herself. Then nighttime comes, when the Wilis – the spirits of young women who were betrayed by their loved ones on the eve of their wedding and turned into elves – grab any unwitting passer-by and force him to dance with them until he drops dead. Albrecht, full of remorse, shows up at Giselle’s grave and the Wilis seize him and lead him to the deadly dance. But Giselle intervenes and offers him support until dawn, when the spirits are no longer powerful. Then, after she forgives him, she returns to her grave knowing that from now on she will also belong to the the spirits of the forest. «Giselle» opened at the Olympia Theater (59-61 Academias, tel 210.361.2461) last Friday and is scheduled to run Thursday to Sunday as well as May 22 to 25. The history of a much tweaked work For the plot of the ballet, Theophile Gautier and Jules-Henri Vernoy, Marquis de Saint-Georges, were inspired by a work of Heinrich Heine which in turn was based on a Slavic legend. Jean Coralli (1779-1854), a Frenchman of Italian descent, did the initial choreography, but Jules Perrot (1810-1892), who had an affair with principal dancer Carlotta Grisi, did the parts of Giselle. The choreography of most modern productions are based on the revivals of Marius Petipa for the St Petersburg Imperial Ballet, the first in 1884, starring Maria Gorshenkova. Petipa presented another version in 1899 and then the final one in 1903, for dancer Anna Pavlova. That is the version that most contemporary choreographies are based on. The music of «Giselle» was composed by Adolphe Charles Adam (1803-1856). For its revised edition, Petipa asked Austrian composer Leon Minkus (1826-1917) to write the music for a pas de deux for Giselle and Albrecht, which was then incorporated in the first act. «Giselle» first opened in Paris on June 28, 1841, with Carlotta Grisi and Lucien Petipa as Giselle and Albrecht. The ballet stopped being staged in the West after 1867 and only returned in 1910, when Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes brought it to Paris once more, with Tamara Karsavina in the title role. Greek premiere The Greek National Opera first included in its repertoire only the second act, in 1981. In its complete form, the ballet was first staged in Greece in 1983, with Katerina Dima as Giselle and Angelos Hadzis as Albrecht.