By Iride Aparicio

Photo credit: Alejandro Gomez Alejandra Meijer as Giselle and Albrecht as the Duke of Silesia
   Alexsandra Meijer as Giselle and Bret Bauer as Albrecht

SAN JOSÉ, CA— Friday, October 16, 2015, will be a night to be remembered in this city. It was the night when Silicon Valley Ballet (SVB) made its debut with JOSE MANUEL CARREÑO as its Artistic Director. For its first production of its 2015/2016 Season, the company performed the American Premiere of  the ballet Giselle, coreographed by coreographer and former Cuban Prima Ballerina Ms Alicia Alonso (after the original choreography by JEAN CORALLI and JULES PERROT of l941). Using this unique version of the ballet was made possible by the recent opening up of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.

On opening night, from the stage at the Center of the Performing Arts, SVB’s Executive Director MILLICENT POWERS,  Board Co-Chair STEPHANY SOUTHWICK, and Managing Director DALIA RAWSON  welcome the audience, mentioning, on their short talks, that with the presentation of Giselle  the City of  San José  had  built a cultural bridge with Cuba by collaborating its art with Cuba’s art. With the newly rechristened ballet (formerly Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley) the city starts a new page its Arts' History.

The story of Giselle begins with the music (Written by ADOLPHE ADAM) Its overture describes the contrast in the story of the ballet. Its opening notes are strong, virulent, followed by a light romantic melody which indicates the fate that will govern the rest of the story considered romantic, yet mysterious.

The plot of the ballet, is based in the book of  VERNOY de  SAINT-GEORGE,   JEAN CORALLY and THÉOPHILE GAUTIER,  who added, the story of the Willis, (The ghosts of the young women who died before getting married and now hunt men, and force them to dance with them until they die from exhaustion) to the second act. It came from a poem written by HEINRICH  HEINE the famous German poet.

The story the ballet represents is simple.  In act one, Albrecht, the Duke of Silesia, (BRET BAUER)  disguised as a peasant, had made Giselle, (ALEXSANDRA MEIJER) a peasant girl, believe that he is going to marry her. Because of it, when Hilarion  (JOSÉ MANUEL CARREÑO) declares his love to Giselle, she rejects him. Hilarion discovers that Albrecht is a Duke, and tells it to Giselle but she does not believe it, until later on that day, when after meeting his wife-to-be in person, she learns that Albrecht is alsoengaged. Giselle, has a weak heart. She dies from a broken heart.

Front center: Berthe (Karen Gabay)touches dying Giselle (Meijer)
 Front center: Berthe (Karen Gabay) consoles dying Giselle (Meijer)

Her soul becomes a Willi. but instead of forcing men to dance with her, when Albrecht, is being tortured by the Willis she rescues him.

The first act of the ballet takes place in a little village in the Rhine. with two rustic cottages. Giselle’s house to our left and Albrecht  to our right. The elaborate costumes (PAUL PLESH) and the pastoral scenery (GIANNI QUARANTA ) vicariously, transport us there.   

Ms. ALICIA ALONSO’s   masterful choreography made the first act of the ballet come alive, not only because of the way she presented the dances, but because in her Giselle, her dancers' faces showed realistic expressions: They smiled, they looked surprised, worry, sad. On the technical part,  the precision of all the dances was  perfect, all the steps were  synchronized. The dancers in the groups moved together as one. As for their rhythm of the music, they all danced rhythmically. When they jumped,  they landed on the down beat  

We can say that during this act, Coreographer ALICIA ALONSO offered the audience a plentiful bouquet of classic-ballet steps:  Pirouettes, jumps, Arabesques, Legs extended above the shoulder height,  Glissades, Plies. And because this is a Classical ballet, most of the steps danced in Pointe.

In her role as Giselle, ALEXSANDRA MEIJER had a chance to act, and demonstrate her expertise, as a  dancer. Moved by love, we saw her smiling, carefree hoping around the stage, like a little girl, with her arms in the air over her head.  Her folk dancing demanded finesse.  Playfulness in her movements,  when she flirted with Albrecht, Dexterity as she showed her dancing to the  the  Royal family, and most of her dances, slow or fast, needed to be executed in Pointe. Her pas de deuxes (they were many)  with BAUER,  were visual. Their fish figures, a work of art. 

In his role as Albrecht, BAUER demonstrated that he could act, and that he has a masterful dancing technique. Looking royal, he mastered every one of  his fast turns, flew high in the air during his jumps, and demonstrated his strength, during his pas de deus, by lifting MEIJER , over his head.  

In his role as  Hilarion, the gamekeeper in love with Giselle, MANUEL CARREÑO, another great dancer, had a chance to act, which he did well, but little chance to dance in the first act.  The role of Berthe, Giselles, mother,  played by KAREN GABAY, a former Principal dancer of  Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley, did not required dancing. 

In the second act, in her role as Willi, MEIJER, needed to changed  her dance movements to give the audience the impression that he was  lifeless. She played her role with mastery, starting by crossing the stage rapidly in pointe giving us the impression that she was  floating in the air.

The best dances in the second act, were the ensembles of the willis.  Female dancers dressed, in white strapless dresses with long gauze skirts (Designed by DAVID GUTHRIE) looking like brides, but with a ghostly appearance. A marvelous visual effect was when the different lines of dancers, crossed each other dancing in pointe at a fast tempo. The softness and transparency of  their skirts floating in the air, made them look spectral.

Front Left, Meijer as a Willi
                    Front Left, Meijer as a Willi

It was no wonder that the dances of the Wilis, got loud “Bravos.” from the audience.

As Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, AMY MARIE BRIONES  had the opportunity to demonstrate her expertise as a dancer during her ghostly role.  She was good when dancing alone,  Her dancing  as a pas de trois,   however, was distracting at time, because one of her two “assistants” played by JING ZHANG and Cindy HUANG,  was not dancing on time.

On this act, Hilarion, (CARRERAS)  chased by the Wilis when visiting Giselle in the cemetery, was forced to dance, so the audience had a chance to see him dance and do his athletic dancing which included  spinning fast, and doing high jumps  inside a circle of Willis dancing around him. Another man who was surrounded by the Willis on this act is Albrecht (BAUER ) but in his case, his life is spared with the help of Giselle’s soul. and by the ringing of the bells announcing the dawn of a new day which sends the Wilis back to their resting places.

As many people know, when one talks about Giselle ( that was first presented in England at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London on March 12, l842)  the world’s critics always mention  the names of the ballerinas, from around the world,  who had best interpreted  the difficult role: MARKOVA, PAVLOVA, KARSAVINA,  ALICIA ALONSO.  Perhaps in the future the name of ALEXSANDRA MEIJER will be added to that list.

iCenter:  Bauer on the floor with Meijer
        Center:  Bauer on the floor with Meijer  

CULTURAL WORLD BILINGUAL  takes this opportunity to thank Coreographer ALICIA ALONSO for sharing her marvelous coreografia with us.  We also would like to thank  the Artistic Staff of SILICON VALLEY BALLET, all its dancers, and every person who made this wonderful production possible for all of us.