An estimated 14,000 people showed up at Millennium Park Wednesday evening to watch the live simulcast of the Paris Opéra Ballet‘s performance of Giselle. After a greeting from Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) Commissioner, Michelle T. Boone and a few words from Brigitte Lefèvre, Paris Opéra Ballet’s Director, the audience fixed its collective gaze at a giant screen set up on the Pritzker Pavilion stage. The LED screen set up by Staging Solutions was 18′ x 32′ according to the City’s press release or 16.5′ x 32.5′ according to Hedy Weiss in the Chicago Sun Times – it was big! Hi-tech, LED, surround sound and arguably the most famous ballet company in the world performing my favorite ballet…for free. I love my city!
Chicagoans have been privy to this ballet before. Local fave Joffrey Ballet presented Giselle in October 2007 and American Ballet Theatre has performed it here numerous times, most recently in March. The ballet was created for the Paris Opéra Ballet in 1841, however, the current version was staged by Patrice Bart and Eugene Polyakov in 1991. The french version is pretty much the same as what we’ve seen before with one notable exception. The Americanized adaptations throw in more grandiose choreography. For instance, ABT’s version has Albrecht’s brisé diagonals and grand jumps in Act II, where Paris Opéra has him doing slow changements that grow into a crescendo of entrechat quatré and six (performed with great ballon by Nicolas Le Riche). Where ABT’s Myrta breezes back and forth across the stage and in and out of the wings in a bourré flurry, Paris Opéra’s Myrta’s doesn’t leave the stage, stopping and balancing in sous-sus before taking off again, an exercise in complete control (danced brilliantly by Nolwenn Daniel – she was scary!). Clairemarie Osta’s Giselle was a sweet, innocent take on young love, but her mad scene lacked the dramatic prowess of a Julie Kent. Rounding out Wednesday’s cast was hottie Vincent Chaillet as Hilarion and a stellar corps de ballet. Those Wilis were on!
Being outside had the effect of enhancing, yet separating you from the performance. The breeze made you feel like you were in the glen celebrating the wine festival and as the sun set and the sky became darker, you could imagine yourself in a wooded graveyard. The minimal downside was random fire engine sirens and the weekly fireworks exploding at nearby Navy Pier, but that made the experience uniquely Chicago. There was a disconnect not being in the theater. A twice-removed feeling: one, you’re not in the theater and two, you’re watching live dance being filmed on a screen. Nothing beats a live performance experience, but knowing it was being performed live a few hundred feet away (and below) was pretty cool. The actual filming was fantastic with close-up shots of the lead dancers, a peak into the orchestra pit, an angled shot that showed a hint of the entrances from one wing. It gave those of us in the cheap (free) seats a VIP feel.