The Boston Ballet opened its season this month with the supremely demanding - and rewarding - romantic ballet ``Giselle,'' a familiar story of love, betrayal, and redemption. The choreography, by Leonid Lavrovsky after Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, has not a moment's rest for any of the dancers. Giselle, a peasant girl engaged to Albrecht, finds he is a count who is also engaged to a princess. She flurries through a mad scene, dies, and dances the second act as her own ghost. Albrecht, a cad, is attacked while grieving at her grave by the Wilis, ghosts who dance young men to death. He must dance at their command and repent at the same time, making sure to break the audience's hearts along the way.
Who better to attempt this than Fernando Bujones, a young dancer with a dazzling technique who recently left the American Ballet Theatre for international stardom and is guesting with the Boston Ballet this year? Surprisingly, the one better than Mr. Bujones was a familiar dancer here, Frank Augustyn. Mr. Augustyn had been injured two years before and made a rather quiet return by appearing as Albrecht the night after opening night.
Part of the thrill of his performance as a character who achieves redemption is that he is dancing with a redeemed technique. He sails more freely and lands more neatly and firmly than before the injury and has just the extra grace he needed to be a great dancer. But what pulled the whole evening together was his understanding of the role and of his partner.
His acting was solid. He gave a nastily dismissive shrug to explain Giselle to his princess, and responded to the peasant girl's death with the right mixture of grief and cowardice.
But he went beyond acting in the second act, where with leaps and turns he danced repentance. His partnering of Marie-Christine Mouis, who played Giselle strikingly with diamond-sharp technique, proudly held shoulders, and a fine strength, was tender and solemn. There was a quietness about their movement that made the pas de deux seem as if it were being thought rather than danced. When they turned in unison, not touching, it was as if they were miles apart but thinking of each other. Augustyn hovered over Miss Mouis as if afraid she'd disappear, and she echoed this attitude, bending protectively and sorrowfully over him as his ordeal ended.
Augustyn even managed to leap thoughtfully among the Wilis. Often paired in the past, Augustyn and Miss Mouis sometimes seemed remote. Here the remoteness was put to good use - Augustyn's Albrecht was dancing with a woman who was already lost to him, so the unity that emerged was all the more poignant.
Bujones, on the other hand, seemed to have parachuted into the production just before the curtain went up. Laura Young, his Giselle, was physically a good match for him. He is slight but powerful. Miss Young was all tiny flutters and sparkle, with a sprightliness that belied her 26 years with the company and lofted her up at his side during his airy leaps. Bujones seemed to coast through the first act. In the second, he related more to the Wilis, delivering feather leg-beats and crackerjack leaps, looking at them arrogantly, as if to say, ``There. Satisfied?'' Meanwhile, Young was left to feint around the edges, as if it was Bujones's brilliance, not Giselle's intercession, that would save his life.
The production was impressive. Ballet mistress Anna-Marie Holmes adapted the Lavrovsky choreography to the company. Carla Stallings, another newcomer from the ABT, was haunting, appropriately, as queen of the Wilis. The company has grown considerably since Bruce Marks became artistic director in 1985. The corps looks stronger and sharper despite a few wobbles among the Wilis. To mount such an ambitious production successfully, and with four different Giselles and Albrechts, shows that the company is in better shape than it has been in 10 years. But to use a flashy guest star who is not incorporated into the production hurts rather than helps the company's reputation.
Bujones will perform in ``The Nutcracker'' and ``Miss Julie'' later in the season. It remains to be seen whether this commuter relationship will raise the company's standards or just give its public more strangely boring evenings of brilliant but disconnected dancing.