Chamber Ballet Taipei’s (台北室內芭蕾舞團) production of Giselle at Metropolitan Hall (城市舞台) on Saturday night was a surprising delight.
Artistic director and choreographer Allen Yu (余能盛) did a good job of updating and transposing Act I of Giselle to a Taiwanese factory floor, helped along by a clever set design by Huang Jih-chun (黃日俊) and colorful costumes by Keith Lin Ping-hao (林秉豪), who also worked with him on last year’s production, The Door (門).
The show opens with a prologue to explain the connections between the main characters in Act I: Giselle, who loves Albrecht (the factory manager), and is loved by Hillarion, a coworker. Albrecht loves Giselle, but is engaged to the boss’ daughter. Each dancer has a spotlight solo, with Giselle and Albrecht blowing kisses at each other from the edge of their circle of light.
Giselle is clad simply in a 1950s mid-calf-length blue skirt, black leotard top and blue bandeau headband. The men are in slacks and shirts — and a vest for Albrecht, while his fiancee wears a red cocktail-length dress.
A set of windowed walls was then lowered to delineate Albrecht’s office and mark the start of Act I, with rows of fluorescent lights and a backdrop of an outsized, stylized factory floor featuring huge hubcaps and sprockets. It’s a minimal set, yet instantly conveys the storyline.
Instead of the usual sketch with Albrecht knocking on the door to Giselle’s cottage and then hiding from her, he knocks on the office windows while she is cleaning the room. There was no “he loves me, he loves me not” flower scene, but their flirting was capped with a touching pas de deux as Hillarion glowered from the doorway.
Julie Gardette was a beautiful Giselle. Her lines and batterie and entrechats were clean and she has a lovely penche. Her Act I mad scene was restrained, but you could see her heart breaking.
Michal Stipa was gorgeous as Albrecht. The Czech was born to play the prince in classical romantic ballets — tall, stately, great lines, assured partnering and strong lifts. He made the two straight-over-the-head lifts in Act II look like he was just stretching — they were just lovely.
Alexandre Katsapov as Hillarion was more Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire than the usual besotted lover of traditional Giselles, but he’s a fine dancer and actor.
The transposition to the factory floor didn’t work so well when it came time to explain why all the workers (men in slacks and shirts, women in 1950s full skirts, shirts and headscarves) would suddenly start dancing (in traditional versions it’s a wine harvest party). The acting was a bit hammy, with the factory director coming in (preceded by an enormous pillow-stuffed stomach) and money being flashed, but watching classical ballet always requires a suspension of belief. It was a bit over the top, but Yu said he was striving for a Taiwanese soap opera quality — and he certainly achieved that.
It was also a bit jarring to jump from a Taiwanese factory to Act II’s forest glen, with an old church and graveyard visible in the distance and the graves of Giselle and Myrtha, queen of the Wilis, on stage. The lighting was too bright for a nighttime encounter with the spirits — Hillarion hardly needed the lamp he carried to light his way through the forest — though the faux marbling of Giselle’s cross and tomb was a nice nod to Taiwan’s marble industry.