Pacific Northwest Ballet Giselle Review
February 17, 2023 | Digital
In June 1841, the ballet Giselle, inspired by the spectacle of ghostly brides, premiered after only two months of preparation. Quite the race to the stage as it was merely an idea in Théophile Gautier’s mind and the music, steps, sets, and costumes were just as infantile.
The resulting show is now a staple in classical ballet repertoire for companies across the globe. Peasant dances, celestial spirits, heartbreak – for classical ballet, it’s got it all.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s revisit of the classic is a refurbished version, tweaked here and there, choreographically only noticeable to those familiar with the Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, Marius Petipa version. Yes, over time there became three choreographers associated with the antique steps but Coralli and Perrot have ownership of the original and Peter Boal puts his stamp on this one.
Pacific Northwest Ballet Giselle Review
Opening on a small, German village, a house on stage right and a hut and bench on stage left, Jérôme Kaplan’s scenic designs are cozy and endearing. The green backdrop emulates a forest grove opening to a perfect blue sky with a castle in the distance. Randall G. Chiarelli’s earthly lighting places us at just before dawn in the quaint farming town.
This saccharine quaintness of Act I really becomes apparent when we enter Act II, a moody, midnight forest and lake. Although it’s a romantic ballet, Giselle is also a ghost story and the blue luminescent figures that appear in the gloomy trees ensure we know the stage is haunted. Costume designs, also by Kaplan, show off lovely bodice work in both the village costumes and the white, romantic tutus in the second act.
A lot of Act I is miming, heightened in Boal’s version which utilizes notations and source documents from the late 19th century.
In fact, the program includes a guide to help with interpreting the kinetic language since the story so heavily relies on it. Although fundamental to telling the tale, the miming came across as formal and dry, especially in contrast to casual shoulder shrugs and playful flirting.
Dancing our doomed Giselle is the lithe Lesley Rausch (whom I also enjoyed in PNB’s Swan Lake) and playing opposite her as her beau Duke Albert is the affectionate James Kirby Rogers. Usually, the nobleman is known as Albrecht however I am not sure as to the reason for the update in this production. Rausch is youthfully giddy and then tormented with heartache in the famous “mad scene”, ultimately leading to Giselle’s death, however the second act is really where the couple shine.
Along with heavy miming, Act I also delivers the famous Peasant Pas De Deux which acts as an interlude to the large group numbers and exposition. As a student, I recall this being a grueling number. It includes a sort of intro pas de deux, a main pas de deux, a male variation, a female variation, a second male variation, and finally a coda.
Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan and Kyle Davis are charismatic, bouncing smiles and brights eyes between each other, leaning into the idyllic country lifestyle. Boal follows the template of classical choreography but adjusts to suit the PNB dancers; as in the partnered winding promenade where the female passes under the male arm, followed by her partner doing the same – a touch of Balanchine. Ryan and Davis accomplish the challenging steps with precision and charm.
Albert is to dance to his death in Act II when he unluckily chances upon a swarm of crazed Wilis (women who, like Giselle, died before their wedding nights). Both his and Giselle’s fervent dancing at the unsympathetic demand of Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis has become a famous physical feat of the classical ballet world.
Rausch’s nimble footwork glistened in the iconic entrechat quatre sequence and Rogers’ entrechat six impressed and delighted (twenty-seven in a row!).
But Rausch and Rogers’ wistful pas de deux is what ties their performance together. Whereas in Act 1 their affection is superficial and youthful, this dancing is a full surrender to the depth of their love.
The corps de ballet of Wilis displayed tight formations and domineering groupthink with disdainful “talk to the hands” aimed at Albert and Hilarion, Giselle’s jealous admirer. Their synchronized arabesque hops (the kick line of the classical ballet world) were met with applause, in part for the one-legged stunt and the other the pulsing music of Adolphe Adam (with additional composers).
Leading the charge as Myrtha, Elle Macy channeled phantasmic rage through every pointed finger, sharp arm, and bounding jeté. Moyna and Zulmé, danced by Clara Ruf Maldonado and Madison Rayn Abeo, also showcased ghostly vengeance and clean technique.
There’s a lot of history to be dug up when setting a ballet. But I think there’s something to be said about utilizing portions of the past without being tied to their exact notation. Boal’s version stays true to the history of Giselle but is made to fit the talent of the company. With that, I was able to see something familiar with delightful dollops of what makes the PNB dancers who they are.
Featured Photo for this Pacific Northwest Ballet Giselle review of principal dancer Elle Macy as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis in Peter Boal’s staging of Giselle. Photo © Angela Sterling.
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