Pacific Northwest Ballet: "Giselle"

June 30, 2011

Marion Oliver McCaw Hall

Seattle, WA
June 3–12, 2011

Carla Körbes as Giselle and Karel Cruz as Albrecht in PNB’s world premiere staging of
Giselle.  Photo ©Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s renovated Giselle is an intriguing restoration that brings the ballet closer to what 19th- and early 20th-century audiences might have seen. Staged by artistic director Peter Boal, dance historian Doug Fullington, and musicologist/dance historian Marian Smith, the beautifully performed ballet sparkled with details that re-contextualized this story in surprising and satisfying ways.

From the moment the ballet opens with a charming children’s trio acting out the synopsis (Boal’s idea) and closes with Albrecht’s reaching for Bathilde’s welcoming arms, you know that this is not the Giselle we have come to love. The restored mime passages (some of them helpfully illustrated with sketches in the program) enriched the characters and the storytelling. Hilarion (danced by the superb Jerome Tisserand in both of the casts I saw) is deeply in love but also fiercely proud, standing up to Albrecht without giving an inch. Berthe (performed by the fine Melanie Skinner and Chalnessa Eames) expansively tells the legend of the Wilis, though that does not stop Giselle (Kaori Nakamura and Carla Körbes) from rejecting a mother’s warning.

The villagers are restless. The grape pickers, Giselle included, are reluctant to do their jobs. The peasants “chat” and flirt, paying scant attention to the women’s charmingly danced Waltz. The introduction of “rustics” in the second act added Shakespearean notes of comedy, particularly when some of the Wilis tried to ensnare the men. Balancing Taglioni-like ephemerality with revenge-driven power, however, looked a little dubious.

PNB scheduled four leading couples. I saw Nakamura with Lucien Postlewaite on June 10 and Körbes with Karel Cruz the next night. Initially, Nakamura seemed a rather severe village girl but she bloomed under Postlewaite’s elegant and caring attention. Touchingly, her initial shock and anger at the deception turned into a maelstrom of pain that threatened to explode inside her head. I had always wondered why Giselle curtseys to Albrecht if she believes him to be a villager. So Nakamura’s fury when learning the truth seemed somewhat directed at herself; it made dramatic sense.

For his part, when found out, Postlewaite’s Albrecht—elegant with pristine timing of his footwork throughout—didn’t know where to turn so he adjusted his hair. It seemed such a plausible response to bewilderment. In the second act, the doomed lovers—starting with the side-to-side travels—looked as if poured from one mold.

Körbes, a beautifully musical and sensitive Giselle, was less fortunate with Cruz. He appeared a young, overly self-involved dancer, still focused more on his steps than on his partner. Maria Chapman’s Myrtha, interestingly, emphasized a passion for dancing that had survived inside her as much as her commanding responsibilities. Laura Gilbreath danced the other Myrtha—powerfully.

Though traditional in many ways, PNB’s Giselle shifted an essential paradigm. When created in 1841, Europe was in deep political turmoil. Here the tragedy acquired a social component, implied but less prominent in the versions we know. Albrecht can be seen as the rebel who tries to escape the constraints imposed by his station. His counterpart is Tisserand’s firebrand Hilarion, who also recognizes in Albrecht a political enemy. With Albrecht’s return to Bathilde, the old political and social order has been restored. The revolution will have to wait.