Giselle,” the two-act Romantic ballet that premiered in 1841, may be 172 years old, but there is much to Pacific Northwest Ballet’s current production that is new.
Surprisingly, this production owes its freshness to stripping away many of the “updates” made to the ballet over the last three-plus decades and giving it a staging nearer to its 19th-century roots. From the delicate, pantomimed storytelling to the complex dance steps of a different era, this gutsy move by company artistic director Peter Boal is startlingly invigorating rather than yawn-inspiring to a modern audience.
Under Boal’s leadership, the production was reconstructed for its 2011 premiere at Pacific Northwest Ballet by dance historian Doug Fullington and music scholar Marina Smith. The final product is based on choreographer Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot’s original 1841 “Giselle” and Marius Petipa’s 1884 restaging, with touches by Boal.
Restoring the more complicated steps and faster tempos of “Giselle”’s origins creates a nimble velocity and elevation. Unexpectedly, the pantomime gestures feel quite graceful and natural and help avoid the moments of plot vagueness that plague so many storybook ballets.
For those who have seen “Giselle” in other incarnations, there is still plenty that is familiar, from the storyline to the principal dancers’ solos. In a charming German village Albrecht, a duke pretending to be a villager pursues the peasant girl Giselle. When Albrecht’s engagement to a noblewoman is revealed, Giselle dies of a broken heart. She becomes one of the Wilis, female spirits out for revenge on men.
On opening night last Friday, May 30, Kaori Nakamura went movingly from a willful, lighthearted Giselle, who can’t get enough of dancing, to being torn apart by Albrecht’s deception; we felt her pain as she went mad. As a Wili, Nakamura was ephemeral, often appearing to float spectrally across the stage, even during the most exacting and breakneck choreography.
Jerome Tisserand’s high-spirited Albrecht matched Nakamura’s ardor and displayed some astounding footwork, stamina and elevation.
As the ballet progressed, Batkhurel Bold’s Hilarion becomes a sympathetic character as we see his love for Giselle and horror at what he has done.
In this production, Bathilde, the duke’s fiancée, is no snob, and Sarah Ricard Orza imparts just the right amount of compassion.
The performance of the Wilis in Act II was some of the most breathtaking unison work I’ve seen from the company’s corps de ballet. There was a sinister authority to Carrie Imler’s Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, brooking no resistance, even in her powerful leaps. Liora Neuville displayed an addictively diaphanous grace as the Wili Moyna.
Other standouts included Leta Biasucci and Jonathan Porretta in the Peasant pas de deux and Margaret Mullin in the dual roles of the Wili Zulmé and Giselle’s protective mother, Berthe.
Peter Farmer’s stodgily clichéd set and costumes from the 2011 production have been ousted by Jerome Kaplan’s fresh take on both. At the top of each act, projections of engravings from the 1844 book “Les Beautés de l’Opera” dissolve to reveal Kaplan’s set, which evokes the projections it replaces. Walls and other elements that are two-dimensional, as well as detailed but not entirely realistic painting, give the set a pop-up storybook feel.
Randall G. Chiarelli’s atmospheric lighting not only enhances the characters’ emotions, it also conjures an eerie forest night perfect for the Wilis’ dark business, including a stunning shaft of moonlight piercing through tree branches.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Giselle” performs at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St.), through Sunday, June 8. For tickets or more information, visit www.pnb.org or call (206) 441-2424.
MAGGIE LARRICK is a former editor of the Queen Anne & Magnolia News. To comment on this review, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.