Evelyn Hart is exquisite in National Ballet of Canada's 'Giselle'
Toronto — By constantly defying the law of gravity, Evelyn Hart always fulfills the law of beauty. She is an exquisite romantic dancer - a ballerina of great charm with a weightless, easy style and a winning affection for her art and audience. As Giselle in the ballet of the same name, she has the perfect showcase for these talents.
In the National Ballet of Canada's production of this ballet classic two weekends ago, Miss Hart (as a guest artist) proved all this - and further established her position as prima ballerina of all Canada. It was a magnificent performance of what is probably dance's premier female role, supported and embellished by the National Ballet's excellent corps and orchrestra, along with some brilliant design work by Desmond Heeley.
''Giselle'' is a complex, demanding ballet. In the first act, a peasant girl (Giselle) falls madly in love and then dies from the grief of discovering her partner's betrayal. In the second half, she comes back as a spirit to dance with her sorrowing lover as he is being danced to death by the Wilis - young women who have suffered betrayal by lovers and aim to avenge these occurrences by forcing all men they encounter to dance till they die. The first half requires a Giselle that is vivid, almost impulsive; the latter part a transcendent, still beauty.
Evelyn Hart fulfilled both parts superbly. But it was in Act II, where Giselle returns as a spirit, that Hart's real gift shone, for this scene requires what many have called a spiritual sense of dance - and this is certainly her forte. In a milky white, flowing dress she floated about the stage , without effort and without gravity. Then, in their final pas de deux, Hart was lifted by her lover, with arched back and arms trailing, a picture of serenity and beauty suspended in space.
When she appeared for the curtain calls, she was showered with applause and asked to make extra appearances. Yet not for a moment did she lose her graceful and unpretentious manner, each bow a gentle offering to the audience, with radiant smiles added for good measure.
Too bad her usual partner for ''Giselle,'' Frank Augustyn, was injured and couldn't be in the performance I attended. Tomas Schramek's Albrecht was a valiant try by a dancer not ready for the role. He leaped and acted fairly well, but he tried too hard. It showed - and the required effortlessness of great dancing was lost. Also, Hazaros Surmeyan was less than excellent as the forester Hilarion, who comes in the first act to expose Albrecht's deception (he is promised to another woman), which leads to Giselle's dramatic death. Surmeyan again was good with the drama, but his dancing was floppy and not compelling.
But the great strength of the National Ballet is its commitment to all aspects of a production, and here the company glittered, providing an ideal backdrop for Miss Hart's heroics:
* The corps was superb. In the first act, the male corps danced with precision, lightness, and strength. In the second act, the female Wilis were simply marvelous. Special credit goes to Nadia Potts as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, who led her dancers with supreme command. The Wilis' lines were flawless, and the mood was perfectly cast by their haunting, hovering pointe work.
* Set design was superior. Around the dancers were Desmond Heeley's finely appointed sets, bringing the mythical forest of Act 2 to life with layers of moss-laden trees and a dark, foreboding scene of deep woods and cliffs painted on the back scrim. For the first act, his Romantic period costumes brought the proper mix of color, royalty, and village charm.
* The ballet orchestra is one of the best. Guest conductor Alexander Brezina led a fully stocked ensemble whose rich sound was appropiately sculptured to blend in beautiful harmony with the Romantic ballet.
* The choreography was well-honed. Peter Wright has been staging this ballet since 1968, for many companies, including Britain's Royal Ballet. The dramatic action and movement are tightly woven, although, probably due to the story itself, things drag a bit just before Giselle's dramatic death scene at the end of the first act.
In sum, this was a a fine addition to the National Ballet's spring season, a company that continues to carve out its own unique and respected place in the ballet world under new artistic director Erik Bruhn.
Rudolf Nureyev will be appearing with the National Ballet in Toronto May 9, 10, 11, and 12 in the dancer's own production of ''Sleeping Beauty.'' Also, the company will premiere John Cranko's ''Onegin'' at the Toronto International Festival June 14-16.