Giselle by La Scala with Nicoletta Manni and Timofej Andrijashenko. Photo: La Scala Theatre Ballet Company
Giselle by La Scala with Nicoletta Manni and Timofej Andrijashenko. Photo: La Scala Theatre Ballet Company

La Scala Theatre Ballet, the most renowned dance company in Italy, is currently on a month-long tour of China. As Hong Kong does not feature on this year’s tour, which is scheduled to visit Shanghai, Macau, Xian and Tianjin, I traveled to nearby Macau to catch them.

The Macau Cultural Center has presented many world-famous artists and companies in the two decades since it opened in 1999, the year when Macau reverted to Chinese sovereignty.

On show in Macau was the classic Giselle. (Another 19th-century classic, Don Quixote, is scheduled for other Chinese cities on the itinerary.)

This La Scala version of Giselle was produced by Yvette Chauviré, a former star of the Paris Opera Ballet, with sumptuous designs by Alexandre Benois. The backdrop in Act 1 depicting an autumnal landscape was particularly beautiful, as were the costumes of the noblemen accompanying the Duke of Courland.

The choreographic text was faithful to the traditional version. It was a pity, however, that the traditional mime of Bertha, Giselle’s mother, foretelling the tragedy of the tale had been excised.

This happened to be the same program that they brought to the Hong Kong Arts Festival in 2014. Then, the Hong Kong tour was headed by two international guest stars – Bolshoi Ballet’s prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova and the American Ballet Theatre principal David Hallberg.

This time in Macau, it was rewarding to see the first cast led by two of the company’s own principals, Nicoletta Manni joined by Timofej Andrijashenko, who was only promoted to principal dancer in April this year. Both are in their 20s.

Manni was superb in the title role. In Act 1, she was convincing as the innocent peasant girl, and her mad scene at the end of the act was captivatingly dramatic. In Act 2, Manni was ethereal as a mystical Wili and was most touching in the duet, partnered by Andrijashenko.

The blond Andrijashenko is a handsome and elegant dancer. His acting was heartfelt, and his portrayal of remorse at the end of Act 1 was moving. In Act 2, he displayed his remarkable technical virtuosity. The lofty cabrioles in his solo were breathtaking, as were his entrechats in the coda. The ending when he slowly advanced to the front of the stage after Giselle’s disappearance was very moving. It was certainly an exciting partnership. No wonder they won prolonged curtain calls from the audience at the end.

La Scala gave a strong company performance. In Act 2 the corps de ballet playing 24 Wilis, the supernatural women who dance men to death, was impressive in its uniformity. Virna Toppi danced powerfully as Myrtha, the Queen of the Willis. Martina Arduino displayed sharp legwork in the peasant duet.

The production’s musical accompaniment came from Macao Orchestra, which played Adolphe Adam’s score beautifully under the baton of David Coleman.