There are few companies in the world who can pull off the first scene of Red Giselle. Boris Eifman puts eight princes on stage in glittering classic princely raimant and eight princesses in exquisite white tutus.
It’s a hallucinigenic and disorienting spectacle to face that many principal dancers at the same time, each dancing his or her grand role. Staatsoper is a particularly beautiful ballet company with the men for the most part fine featured and long limbed. The Staatsoper corps-de-ballet women are slim, soft curved and graceful. Thanks to their pretty faces and fine dancing skills the illusion of eight princes and eight Giselles convinces.
Staatsoper is a better match than Eifman’s own company for Red Giselle as the Staatsoper dancers perform the classics every week and are prettier. Eifman’s own group are a bit shorter and more muscular – primarily modern dancers.
Red Giselle’s story follows a principal ballerina who abandons her choreographer director husband in the early years of the Russian Revolution for a fling with a Red Kommissar. Initially her plans were for a short affair but the black coated kommissar is not prepared to let her go.
Ioanna Avraam is perfect as the arrogant and willful ballerina who gets her and everyone she knows into such trouble. Later her choreographer husband is thrown into a basement somewhere and tortured to death. Andrey Teterin dances his way to death with distinction and poise.
The role of the Kommissar equally suits Alexis Forabosco, whose sinister handsome face reminds one of Christopher Walken in his prime. Princes don’t suite Forabosco’s gaunt features but villains do, he exudes dark power.
Avraam’s strong almost masculine features and powerful shoulders are a good match for Forabosco’s muscular physique. I’m not sure how effective Red Giselle would be with a fragile Giselle type dancer in the lead role.
When Forabosco’s Kommissar takes Avraam’s ballerina to visit his revolutionary mates, the women spurn her at first. The costumes are Red chic, with revolutionary caps, scarves and long quotes on both men and women. Avraam then wins them all over with a bold dance. This is fantastic spectacle, worthy to be the principal scene of any West End musical.
There is a ravishing Soviet late night café scene complete with flappers where the entire cast swings through the night. It’s the same tight group of thirty dancers who play the Ballerina’s dancer friends, the Soviet revolutionaries, the decadent Soviets, a second dance troupe and finally Willis. There are full costume turnaround in less than two minutes at some points without a single cue dropped. It’s amazing work by the corps-de-ballet, drawn from both Staatsoper and Volksoper companies and by rehearsal masters Alice Necsea, Jean Christophe Lesage and Albert Mirzoyan.
The underused Igor Milos is perfect here as Avraam’s principal ballroom partner. As Avraam’s post-Kommissar dancing partner, Staatsoper étoile Roman Lazik convincingly portrays both dancer and prince.
The minimalist decoration communicates a post-Revolution Leningrad perfectly. The lighting plan is well wrought and atmospheric. The score provides a wide range of musical delights from Peter Ilyitch Tschaikowki’s Serenades, diverse Alfred Schnittke’s extracts, particularly from the Gogole Suite and finally Georges Bizet’s L’Arlessiene Suite. Red Giselle ends of course with the finale of Adolphe Adam’s Giselle.
The fast forward Giselle in the second half is very strange and in some ways goes on too long. It’s unclear what Giselle’s story has to do with an arrogant ballerina who thought she could bed whomever she wanted without consequence. It’s a role reversal from the original Giselle where the prince was the thoughtless one. In this case, the Kommissar should become Giselle in a complete role reversal. But in the final Willi scenes, Giselle remains Giselle. Despite the very effective shock-value madhouse costumes on the Willis, the last third of the piece doesn’t make much sense.
Yet when a theatre work is so well-composed and so varied and so effective, a small thematic failure can be overlooked in favour of the spectacle.
Eifmann’s work is perfect in Volksoper with a grand group of Staatsoper dancers. An almost flawless must see show.