I’ll never forget my coloring book from my “very young dancer” phase that provided a short synopsis of the most famous ballets with a chance to color a scene. The scene of sweet, beautiful Giselle in her trademark yellow and brown dress captivated me, and yet it took decades until I had the chance to see the full ballet, which closed this year’s tremendous Sarasota Ballet season.
This was my favorite performance by Victoria Hulland, who captured the purity of Giselle’s spirit, while simply owning the stage throughout the evening. Hulland wowed as the girl in the hat earlier this season in “The Concert,” when she let her hair down and was exuberant in the role. Some of her other featured performances this season called for more stoicism, so it was great to see her playing the full range of emotions – joyful innocence, sadness, remorse, and ultimately redemption – that the role of Giselle requires. It’s likely that working throughout the year with expert storyteller, guest artist Marcelo Gomes, may have influenced Hulland when she was given the chance to explore the character development of Giselle.
Ricardo Graziano was gallant as ever as Giselle’s charming suitor in disguise, Count Albrecht. No one but the great character principal Ricki Bertoni could have made the cruel Hilarion, a forester in love with Giselle desperate to tear apart the lovebirds, so attractive and compelling.
Christine Windsor also turned in another lovely performance as the Count’s scorned betrothed Bathilde. The company of peasant girls and boys celebrating Giselle’s happiness was splendid. “Giselle” provided the chance for the Sarasota Ballet to demonstrate the strength of the entire company who filled the stage with ebullience and beauty in the village scenes.
At the end of Act 1, Hulland, Graziano, and Bertoni carefully and sensitively portrayed Giselle’s dramatic suicide without veering toward camp or melodrama. Watching Giselle’s final dance after stabbing herself was both magical and tragic capturing the impact her last moments would have on the whole community. With the fragility of life and the ubiquity of suicide so top of mind these days, I found Hulland’s portrayal deeply moving.
For all the majesty of act one, the second act brought the performance to a whole new level. We were greeted by a bevy of beautiful ghosts led by the radiant Amy Wood as Myrtha, Queen of the Willis. Wood’s lamenting visage and graceful presence as she floated across the smoke-filled stage was hauntingly beautiful. With women exuding their power in 2019, the twenty female dancers onstage reminded me briefly of the new Congresswomen honoring the suffragettes in all white earlier this year. The cast joined by Hulland as the newest recruit in the afterlife was a glorious sight to behold. The singular most exciting moment was when Graziano danced alongside Hulland not seeing but feeling her presence and then seemingly subconsciously lifting her lovingly into the air. The audience leapt to their feet at the end of the triumphant performance. Until next year!