doug

PNB Giselle

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OK, people -- we know you've seen it. What did you think?

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Looking forward to hearing how it looks and feels.

P.S. It seems quite a savvy decision to open this when the Dance Critics Association are having their annual convention in town. Let's hope for good publicity around the country AND for a willingness to reevaluate the ballet, what it once was, and what it can become again.

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Looking forward to hearing how it looks and feels.

P.S. It seems quite a savvy decision to open this when the Dance Critics Association are having their annual convention in town. Let's hope for good publicity around the country AND for a willingness to reevaluate the ballet, what it once was, and what it can become again.

Actually, they invited the DCA to come -- they've hosted the annual meeting once before (in 1997, when they premiered their new designs for Midsummer) and they will indeed get many eyes on this production. But several of my colleagues, who cannot come to the conference next week, were in the house this weekend -- there will be a lot of coverage for this.

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Let's hope for good publicity around the country AND for a willingness to reevaluate the ballet, what it once was, and what it can become again.

Yes...let's hope, bart... :beg:

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Just back into town, I saw it Saturday, then headed up to Canada for the rest of the weekend. Entering Canada, the border guard singled my car out for the full search and a ton of questions. I had a copy of the Giselle program in the trunk. After he asked me to pop open the trunk lid (this is pretty common coming back into the US, but not going into Canada), he found the program, and I had to sit in the driver's seat, while he slowly flipped through each page. Eventually I was allowed to continue, but it was a strange experience. It's about 15 minutes past midnight and I don't have the energy to post a full review until Monday. But I'll say that I agree that there was more humor from the villagers, a lot of time spent on pantomime (my seat mate thought far too much), and a great performance by the corps in both acts. I don't know how all Giselles handle the removal of the veils from the willis, but the audience gasped when (previously invisible) strings swept the veils up into the sky from their heads, upon a cue of music. I wasn't sure if the extra scenes would make the ballet tediously long, but it clocked in at 2:40 including the intermission, which was fine.

So does that give you a taste, nuestro amigo de Cuba?

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Peter Boal described in a Q&A how it takes four stagehands pulling at the same time to lift the veils. (Everyone wants to know, and it was very smart of him to just describe it, instead of being coy.)

Did the border person try out the mime in the program? That could have taken a while in itself.

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Brief remarks - as I'm writing on this. It was a great effort, absolutely worth doing and seeing. Several revelatory moments - the greatest in Giselle's restored mime that gives her a far less wilting character than is common now. Even so, you need to see this production several times to adjust your viewing to it. Much more mime, much more "genre" scenes.

The mime is the greatest benefit and the biggest problem. If they don't do it well - miming without acting (alas, Karel Cruz was particularly guilty) it's like declaiming and stops the whole production dead.

My takeaway from it - the historical material does matter, and it's easier for a good production to be a great "Giselle." But success or failure hinges not on the steps, but on the leading couple. There is no great "Giselle" without a great Giselle and Albrecht.

For me, the most rewarding performance was the Saturday matinee with Seth Orza and Rachel Foster - it was the strongest in conception, both are good actors but most of all, if only to see them both achieve their own personal bests.

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So does that give you a taste, nuestro amigo de Cuba?

Jayne...the previously "green with envy" changed into black already...

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Hello, I'm back! A good night's sleep, a good meal and I finally feel lucid enough to write my review in full. I saw the same matinee on Saturday as Leigh, and I agree and disagree (respectfully) on certain points.

Overall thoughts: Revivals / reenactments / restagings are always risky, because people have preconceived notions of what a ballet should look like. Trying to freeze a ballet in amber, as if it is a fossil could be a pretty display in a museum, but is it art that we want to see performed, and will entertain in the 21st century? This was a beautiful piece of theatre and I truly enjoyed myself, but there were some holes in the production, which can be ironed out as the dancers perform it more often. The very first night of Giselle performed in 1841 would probably be heavily criticized today, for failing to live up to 2011 standards of dancing, smooth production, and full development of the characters.

Scenery & Costumes: PNB is renting the Houston production, and I thought the sets were lovely, the first act costumes were straight out of a Flemish master's painting. In the second act, the PNB Costume Department appears to have removed the greenery diagonal across the bodice of the Willi dress, which has very long, very fluffy skirts. The veils are quite long, and shortly after the wilis appear, their veils in unison are swept upwards off their heads by strings into the heavens of the stage. Myrta wears a diamond type crown that is not typical in other productions. Moyna was missing the upper arm sheer ruffle, but Zulme wore hers (along with the other Wilis). When Giselle rose from the dead, there was a problem when she stepped too far, and her veil began to come partially off by the string - eliciting an awkward laugh from the audience. Hilarion's fur collar is unfortunate, but everything else was great.

Music: Emil de Cou conducted an excellent performance by the PNB orchestra, and I detected no tempo issues, as were mentioned by the Seattle Times critic about the Friday performance. I really am not familiar enough with the musical order of other productions, to give an educated opinion of what was changed for this version.

Pantomime: This has been expanded to a large degree. I have mixed feelings about the pantomime, because an audience in the romantic era was very used to seeing pantomime and understood the meaning easily. In 2011, I felt a bit like watching sign language on stage, and having to rely on my program (which included sketches of the pantomime) to review what meant what at intermission. From a scholarship aspect, this was new and different at PNB. From an audience entertainment aspect, I'm not sure it was an improvement on the experience. Hilarion, Berthe and Myrta seem to have most of the additional pantomime, although Giselle herself has a little more.

Choreography: The program contains an excel spreadsheet showing which scene was based on which notes (Stepanov, Titus / Justamant, or Boal supplemental). You will all be thrilled to know that the "greatest hits" are still intact, and attributed to Stepanov, which apparently is quite similar to the Petipa steps we all know and love. Giselle still hops en pointe, still rises from the dead to perform the same grand pirouettes in arabesque (flat footed here), followed by the traditional footwork, etc. PNB really throws themselves into the romantic choregraphy. You will not see a hyperextended leg of any sort, they are trying to become the anti-neo-classical company in this production. :)

It mostly works, but there is a lack of plasticity in the arms that I would expect of dancers who have 15-20 years of training in this style. Ironically, I would love to see Houston Ballet perform this choreo, with their own sets, just to see how Stanton Welch-trained dancers would handle this. If you like I could post a summary of the spreadsheet attributing choreo.

More to come in a 2nd post...

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part 2 of my review:

New Scenes & Characterizations: As mentioned earlier, the additional scenes mainly provide comic relief. In the first act, Berthe describes the legend of the Wilis with an extended pantomime (that goes on too long and is not easily understood), and Giselle tells her she doesn't believe any of it. I definitely felt this Giselle is more of a spit fire. She is a risk taker - who doesn't mind flirting with the new boy in town (Loys) despite the history with Hilarion, and who dances in spite of the danger to her health. The hunters and old man are the comic relief (as mentioned by another poster). In the opening of Act 2, when the clock strikes midnight (they count it out to audience laughter), they help establish the spookiness and fear of the Wilis and the forest at night. It reminds me a bit of Shakespeare's use of peasants for comic relief in his tragedies. For the children in the audience, it was a useful tool to engage them into the story. Hilarion is something of an Inspector Javert in this version, he sets in motion a series of events that lead to tragedy, but instead of drowning in the Siene, he drowns in a pond after dancing himself to exhaustion. I felt it wasn't very obvious that Bathilde is the prince of Courland's daughter in this version.

There were many first-timers at the ballet that day, at least sitting near me. Some asked me during the intermission for more information on the story - they all assumed Bathilde was the wife of the prince. None of the first timers understood the pantomime very well. I think it might be a bridge too far...Berthe is a protective mother and a gracious hostess to the Prince of Courland and Bathilde. She is not as fussy or comic relief as in some other versions. Wilfride is something of a blank in this production, although he does have some additional pantomime.

Acting: PNB is a neo-classical (i.e. Balanchine specialist) company. They produce tall cool glasses of water, otherwise known as tall ice princesses partnered by handsome, ardent but restrained men, but not passionate actors and actresses. However, they gave it their best shot for Giselle. Some with more success than others. See below...

Individual performances: A few years ago I wouldn't have said this, but all hail the PNB men! They were uniformly excellent in the Saturday matinee. I was less inspired by my Giselle and Myrtha, although the peasant pas de deux included the consistantly amazing Chalnessa Eames (soon to be departing for Twyla Tharp's company).

Jerome Tisserand / Hilarion: his jumps soared, great acting, great energy to the end of the death scene.

Duke Albrecht / Loys: Seth Orza had a breakout performance. Tall, athletic, elevation, execution, and best of all - passionate acting. Really, I thought he reached a new level as a dancer-actor. He did not present Loys as duplicious in Act 1, more like an aristocrat "getting away from it all" and taking on a peasant persona to blend in. His grief in Act 2 was intense without being over the top. He was my favorite part of the production.

Peasant pas de deux / Chalnessa Eames & Jonathan Porretta: Big applause that day for this couple, who danced as if the technical minefield of steps was a fun diversion from grape harvesting. To be honest, I wish Ms. Eames could have been Myrtha (see below).

Myrtha / Laura Gilbreath: Biggest disappointment of the night. She executed every step without problems, but she looked like she was dancing in a recital. for a production keenly trying to act as well as dance in the romantic style - Ms. Gilbreath had a singular blank look on her face through out the 2nd act, with pursed lips. In the "movie in my head", Myrtha has a hollow cavern of cobwebs where her heart should be, but she dances "big" as queen of the wilis, and she expresses emotions along with her pantomime. This character must express her authority through powerful dancing - after all, she has the authority to determine life or death of her captives. Ms. Gilbreath lacked power to dance "big" in this role, instead it was simply an execution of steps a-b-c. She physically is thin as a reed, perhaps too thin to have the muscle needed to dance "big". Unlike a certain reviewer at NYT, I would rather see a dancer add 10 lbs of additional muscle on her body to help her dance a role that requires more power. But I felt the same way when I saw Ms. Gilbreath in the pas de deux of Midsummer last month....if only Chalnessa Eames had been cast here...or better yet....Arianna Lallone would have made Myrtha her swan song, yet she is not cast in any of the Giselles for this rep. To cleanse my palette, I watched Mariella Nunez as Myrtha today on youtube, what a difference!

Moyna / Kylee Kitchens // Zulme / Leslee Rausch: the present and future of PNB is in good hands with these two dancers. They were clearly the captains of the wilis and danced with the authority missing from their queen.

Giselle / Rachel Foster: Act 1 - I liked her spunky characterization. In her solo, the hops en pointe seemed to be more an expression of her elation at being newly in love, and expressing this to everyone, rather than flirting to get the attention of Loys / Albrecht. This production doesn't allow the betrayal of Loys / Albrench to really sink in, it's more like a light goes off between happy / mad for Giselle. I did enjoy her performance, but felt that she was definitely silver cast material (unlike Seth Orza, who I felt was just killing it on stage). Act 2- There was a whole lotta shaking going on in her adagio arabesques. As my russian seat mate said to me in a heavy accent "sheee wud beee deees-q-q-q-ualifeeed at Bolshoi or Mariinsky". That said, I thought her acting was fine, it's just the control in adagio that needs improvement, as the fast steps were executed with great clarity.

Corps de Ballet: Great unison, great alignment, and a powerful response from the audience. Both Act 1 & 2 had an excellent performance by the corps. clearly they have embraced the technical challenge of Giselle. I was more impressed than I have been in the past with their sychronicity.

Hoping to get tickets for the coming week, would like to see the other PNB artist interpretations of the roles, and how things tighten up for the second week (and all the dance critics in town).

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oh, I forgot to mention one of the changes to the ending, after 4am, when the bell rings four times, the wilis disappear and Giselle is left with Albrecht. She returns to her grave (this is where most productions end), but after that, the squire, and others, including Bathilde, one by one enter the woods. Bathilde finds Albrecht at Giselle's grave, and from the opaque grave stone, Giselle rises up to offer her blessing. Bathilde takes Albrecht's hand, and he raises his head towards her. Curtain falls.

Bathilde, BTW, is portrayed very sweetly. She offers Giselle her necklace in the first act, because she is so enchanted with Giselle's dancing. It is an act of pure generosity. She is portrayed as a graceful noble. After reading today's NYT review and criticisms of the Soviet productions, it makes me wonder if this noblewoman's character was altered over time to satisfy the class warfare ideology of the communists???

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Bathilde, BTW, is portrayed very sweetly. She offers Giselle her necklace in the first act, because she is so enchanted with Giselle's dancing. It is an act of pure generosity. She is portrayed as a graceful noble. After reading today's NYT review and criticisms of the Soviet productions, it makes me wonder if this noblewoman's character was altered over time to satisfy the class warfare ideology of the communists???

Part of what I'm really enjoying with this production is the way it's making me think again about the characters and their lives -- it occurs to me that both Giselle and Bathilde manage to get to a state of forgiveness here -- Giselle before she returns to the grave and Bathilde when she has found Alberecht in the forest. I know it's not the version that we often see today, but it has a lovely symmetry to it dramatically.

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If you have a reconciliation at the end, Bathilde has to be sympathetic to make it work. (particularly to make it work in revival.) You saw this most in Kaori Nakamura's final scene as Giselle Sat. evening - she (and I believe only she) pointed to the ring finger on Lucien Postlewaite's hand and pushed him back towards the world. It's her final lesson to him about what it means to be an adult. Without the reconciliation, the character of Bathilde becomes more open to other possibilities.

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This production sounds great. Thank you all for your reviews. I hope some day to see this production, and/or that other companies are influenced by it.

This portrayal of Bathilde makes so much sense to me.

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If you have a reconciliation at the end, Bathilde has to be sympathetic to make it work. (particularly to make it work in revival.) You saw this most in Kaori Nakamura's final scene as Giselle Sat. evening - she (and I believe only she) pointed to the ring finger on Lucien Postlewaite's hand and pushed him back towards the world. It's her final lesson to him about what it means to be an adult. Without the reconciliation, the character of Bathilde becomes more open to other possibilities.

I did see some hand jive from Cruz and from Orza, but it didn't read too clearly from my seat, and I can't say I remember specific anything from Korbes or Foster. And yes, without that "I release you" Bathilde looks like a very different person.

Which could work, dramatically, in some other form of Giselle. That's part of the fun with this production -- the chance to see possibilities.

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When they do the ballet version of "The Devil Wears Prada", Carrie Imler gets to be Meryl Streep.

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I'll have a much longer review after next weekend's performances, but of weekend one, the most coherent, seamless, and wonderful performance from the acting to the dancing to the mime was Saturday afternoon. Rachel Foster and Seth Orza danced Giselle and Albrecht, Jerome Tisserand Hilarion, and Stacy Lowenburg, Bathilde.

Foster and Orza reprise the roles at the last performance of the season, this coming Sunday afternoon -- her Mad Scene is not to be missed -- but Tisserand dances Hilarion with Korbes and Cruz on Saturday evening, with Batkhurel Bold dancing the role on Sunday afternoon, giving him a break after dancing Albrecht on Saturday afternoon.

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A new video, of Lucien Postlewaite in Albrecht's variation:

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The daisy picking scene and Hilarion's interruption, with subtitles!

Giselle: Kaori Nakamura -- I love the little foreshadowing of the Mad Scene

Albrecht: Lucien Postlewaite

Hilarion: Jeffrey Stanton

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Re:

"Individual performances: A few years ago I wouldn't have said this, but all hail the PNB men! They were uniformly excellent in the Saturday matinee. I was less inspired by my Giselle and Myrtha, although the peasant pas de deux included the consistantly amazing Chalnessa Eames (soon to be departing for Twyla Tharp's company)."

Please note: Chalnessa is not joining Twyla Tharp's company when she leaves PNB at the end of the season. She was honored to premiere a new work by Ms. Tharp at the Command Performance gala in Dallas this past April, but it was not a "permanent gig."

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Many thanks, Gary.

[ADMIN BEANIE ON]

I cannot emphasize enough that it is against Ballet Alert! rules to post news without attribution to an official source. It is not only possible to jump the gun and post news prematurely, but this instance shows how wrong information can get posted and rumors started, and which can be hurtful to the people involved.

I apologize to Ms. Eames for not catching this when first posted.

[ADMIN BEANIE OFF]

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She's very good at the counting the petals moment-- you can see she believes in this method of prophecy, it's sincere and clear and she's serious about this, I like her very much there.

I do NOT feel much in her "not wanting him to kiss her -- nor do I feel much in his WANTING her to kiss him, i.e.,the acting is weak there, too much indebted to daytime television mannerisms....

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OK, people -- we know you've seen it. What did you think?

I was there on opening night (last Friday); I will go again tomorrow to see the Rausch/Bold/Dec "team"; then again Friday to see Nakamura/Postlewaite/Chapman. I'll reserve my comments until I've seen all these casts.

However, I will say that Carla Korbes knocked my socks off as Giselle on opening night (she is a wonderfully dramatic dancer); but having said that, the highlight of the night for me was Carrie Imler's Myrtha. Carrie has a way of creating character, not so much via acting, as via simple "being". Of course, her technical skills are legendary. Overall, she's just the most accomplished and professional ballet dancer I know (remember I don't have access to many other companies).

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She's very good at the counting the petals moment-- you can see she believes in this method of prophecy, it's sincere and clear and she's serious about this, I like her very much there.

I do NOT feel much in her "not wanting him to kiss her -- nor do I feel much in his WANTING her to kiss him, i.e.,the acting is weak there, too much indebted to daytime television mannerisms....

I didn't think all the mime in the clip was delivered consistently. A lot of it seemed YELLED rather than delivered according to the musical accompaniment. It's really not just enough to clearly make the gestures, this isn't ASL. They need flow and shaping and tempo.

I suspect this is largely the result of lack of a deep experience in delivering mime and possibly something the company will improve in over time.

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