Teatro Di San Carlo is the world’s oldest theatre and opera house. What a luxury that they have brought the classic ballet, Giselle, here. With them comes riveting artistry, historical importance, and undeniable beauty.
The optics were outstanding — virtuosity was in no short supply; the artists had unyielding expressivity and soul. Even amidst the corps de ballet came outstanding performances as dancers overflowed with emotive power. Everything was perfect, with perhaps a couple of nervous moments as dancers worked heroically to accomplish the dance, but all that made the show more exciting. Unfortunately, the sound quality left some to be desired; I could not tell if it was the recording itself or technical glitches that invisible people were scrambling to fix.
I wish for the days of live orchestra, for days when governments would pour resources into transporting orchestras around the world and know that it is as important as transporting armies around the world.
Giselle is the quintessential romantic ballet. The dance steps are minimal, with lots of repetition, to serve the purpose of deeper expression. I was floored by the dancers’ performance — in the first act; they are bright, sparkling and delightfully frothy; in the second act, they are terrifyingly cold and commanding. The steps and music remain largely similar between acts; yet while remaining fleet-footed and weightless, the same group of dancers conveyed deep sorrow and heavy hearts. This must be why ballet is magical.
The public of 1841 would appreciate emotion and expression over form; they would connect as middle-class post-Enlightenment arts patrons with the story about ordinary folk. Today I observe the story’s reflection on the politics of class; noble folk wear more stuff on their heads, move much less than the excitable kinetic peasants, glide in and out of the story with untouchable dignity, and only turn around and ignore Giselle when she goes mad and dies. It is relentlessly elegant, a stark reminder of the rigidity of social structures, even today. Many a time, we simply turn away. A small theatrical detail, but such impact.
The Romantic ballet emphasised individualism, and also marked the cult of the ballerina. Anna Chiara Amirante’s Giselle was transporting. A perfect sweet-natured ingenue and a carefree peasant. The steely Myrtha, queen of the Wilis, Martina Affaticato oozed propriety, vengeance, and righteousness. In the best way possible, it was like watching a corpse dance (terrifying).
At the end of the ballet, my partner turns to me and says “ballet is incredibly chauvinist”. He observes that the women forever exude beauty and grace while teetering at the edge of pain, whereas the men seem to zip on and off stage with boundless exuberance and power. The feminist and post-feminist angles on the ballet are fascinating topics; however at the end of the day art is art, and Teatro di San Carlo reveals why Giselle remains relevant.