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Ballet West Keeps 'Giselle' as Classic as Ever

By Karen Anne Webb
Dance Review:
Ballet West
April 13

With the abundance of spring performances (including three of my own), I was finally able to squeeze in something choreographed and performed by someone else. And although it was a ballet classic I've seen dozens of times, I went home happy from Ballet West's production of Giselle, which opened April 13 (yes, Friday the 13th) at the Capitol.

If you're reading this, you probably know the story: peasant girl wooed by nobleman in disguise dies (literally) of a broken heart when his duplicity is revealed. She then rises as a spirit to save him when her sister spirits, the vengeful wilis, try to dance him to death when he visits her grave.

Overall, this was an excellent production, technically sound and dramatically cogent. The corps, both the mixed corps as villagers and the women's corps as wilis, achieved the same beautiful unison that was so evident in last season's Swan Lake. You sometimes think of villagers and similar parts as no more than mobile scenery, and sometimes they are. Here, they seemed to be individuals completely involved with the story and reacting to it like real people. That element adds so much. And, heck, it was fun to see Bene Arnold back onstage as Giselle's mom Berthe. Watching her continues to be an education in character development and delivery.

The run featured many debuts in lead roles. I think Peggy Dolkas has now set a land speed record for debuts in major roles. In a little over a calendar year, she snagged Juliet, Odette/Odîle, Aurora, and now Giselle. Her peasant Giselle is like the first lilacs of spring — fresh and sweet. You understand immediately why the villagers adore her. Her first act variation was exquisite. There's something about that sequence of a strong piqué arabesque followed by a secure rolling down through the foot followed by an equally strong penchée that makes you just sigh in delight. She omitted the hops on pointe due to trouble with bunions, but interim artistic director Pamela Robinson Harris came up with a lovely little sequence that showed off those gorgeous, supple feet. Her mad scene was nicely abstracted from reality (I cried), and she was a beautifully ethereal wili.
Alternating with her in the role was fellow soloist Annie Breneman. I liked her peasant Giselle — her complete absorption in Albrecht was especially affecting — but where she truly stole the show was in the second act. Where Dolkas is compact, Breneman is very long-limbed, and one does think of Giselle's choreography looking best on a smaller body. But — wow! Dancers who understand how long their limbs are, how to send energy all the way out to their fingers and toes, and how to sweep the air with that length using all the music are thrilling to watch, and complete, full, wonderful articulation of her arms and legs was what Breneman's wili Giselle was all about. Her adagio work in the second work was outstanding for this reason, but she also captured the shot-out-of-a-cannon speed of her opening allegro and the sense of soft arms with sparkling jumps in the series of entrechats.

Jonas Kåge once commented that behind every great Giselle is a great Albrecht, and that was true here. It was nice to see Christopher Ruud finally get a crack at the role (he was bumped in favor of a guest artist the last time the company presented Giselle). His was a finely-crafted Albrecht, by turns a loving suitor, a fly caught in a web of courtly manners, and a brooding and penitent bereaved lover. Yet he retained just enough aristocratic arrogance that at times you almost rooted for Seth Olson's very sympathetic Hilarion.
Olson plays a likewise sympathetic Albrecht. His acting has progressed by leaps and bounds this season, as if fatherhood agrees with him! I can't believe he's leaving us.

Making the most of Myrtha were Christiana Bennett — very interesting to see her ordering her offstage husband Ruud to dance himself to death! — and Kate Crews. I liked Crews for her wonderful big jump and Bennett for her regality, precision, and sense of self-satisfied cruelty.



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