Some good news re my eye, and seeing the beautiful Giselle

by Rob Tiller

On Tuesday it was time for another checkup at the Duke Eye Center to see how my left retina was faring. I’d noticed recently that I was seeing better out of that eye – still blurrily, but enough to be of some practical use. But I’d been cautioned by my rockstar retinologist, Dr. M, that because of the scarring from my first operation, there was considerable uncertainty as to how the healing process would progress, and the weeks just past would be a critical phase. I tried not to think about it.

At the appointment, after a four-hour wait (aargh!), I was pleased to find that I could read some of the letters on the eye chart (which I could not at the last visit) and tell with confidence how many fingers the PA was holding up in front of me.  After studying various images of my eye and peering into it with his magnifying instruments, he said, “I like what I’m seeing.”  He told me we’ll need to operate in a couple of months on my new cataract and do a bit of clean up work, but it looks like my vision will improve.  This is good.

On Friday I saw the Carolina Ballet’s last ballet of the season, Giselle. This is one of the most famous works in the canon of classical ballet, but I’d never seen it, and was excited to finally make its acquaintance. The production was beautiful, and also unexpectedly touching.

The ballet is a simple, then tragic, then supernatural love story. Giselle is a sweet peasant girl who is loved by a fine peasant boy but wooed and won by a stranger who turns out to be a Count in disguise. When she finds out that the disguised Count is engaged to an elegant royal lady, she goes mad (very like Lucia), and dies. In the second act, she joins a large group of other deceased jilted maidens, known as the wilis, who dance beautifully together and wreak vengeance on cads such as the Count. But it turns out that the Count really loved Giselle, and she comes to his rescue at the end. Happy ending! Well, sort of – Giselle’s still deceased. You’ve got to get into a romantic frame of mind to enjoy this, but you almost can’t help it.

Lillian Vigo was a beautiful Giselle. At her best, Vigo is masterfully elegant, particularly in adagio passages, and she was lovely this evening. She has the most amazingly graceful long arms! She was sweet and vulnerable, engaged and engaging. It is amazing how much emotion a human body can convey without speaking!

Richard Krusch was a surprisingly complex Count Albrecht, by moments either outgoing or withdrawn. Krusch is a marvelous dancer, but he he can at times seem remote. This evening, he seemed completely and intensely present, and stunning, not only in his athleticism, but in his human engagement.

I also admired Cecilia Iliesiu at Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. Ilesiu is powerful in every respect; she commands the stage. She immediately established that the Wilis were no joke — even if they have a funny name, they were not to be trifled with. The wilis were numerous and gorgeous in white gowns. The effect of 20 ballerinas in tight formation, hovering on pointe, is both pretty and kind of scary.

On Sunday afternoon I went to see Giselle a second time. I wanted to see Lola Cooper, our pointe shoe sponsoree and friend, perform the peasant pas de deux. It seems quite technically demanding, and Lola rose to the challenge. I thought she looked wonderful.

It’s interesting how different dancers can discover and express very different aspects of the same role. I thought Jan Burkhard was superb as Giselle. Her dancing was fully realized and wonderfully expressive, ranging from sweet tenderness to the agony of madness. It was really moving — I got goosebumps. I came away with a new respect for her range and depth. In this performance I also particularly enjoyed Marcelo Martinez as the Count, who took some real chances and was thrilling, and Lara O’Brien as Myrtha, who was regal and mysterious.