I’ve meant to post a little something about the education events the company has been presenting leading up to their production of Giselle. I went to the open coaching session a couple weeks ago, which was very interesting. Despite having ‘grown up’ at NYCB, where ballet mime is generally confined to Nutcracker and a few other works, Peter Boal has been working hard with the material, and had a very musical sense of timing as he demonstrated what he wanted in the first act moments with Giselle and Albrecht. He also narrated some of the mime passages for the audience as they were being run, so that we got several iterations of “lord with a sword” as Wilfred tried to dissuade Albrecht from pursuing Giselle. William Lin Yee was very effective in this – you could see him consider how best to approach Jerome Tisserand as Albrecht.
Kaori Nakamura and Carla Korbes were both very charming in their act 1 excerpts. Some Giselles come out of their house already dying, but these two were much more lighthearted. This made the contrast with their moments of weakness truly vivid, and their response to Berthe’s prediction very clear. Boal spent time with both of them on Romantic era distinctions in port de bras and upper body position.
Most of the session was devoted to act 1 – the new set by Jerome Kaplan has a slightly different layout than the set they borrowed from Houston in 2011, so it requires a little logistical adjustment. But Boal did have Nakamura and Tisserand run the second act pas de deux, I think in part as a treat for us in the audience. They were very lovely, with great phrasing and articulation – it was a pleasure to see them.
Along with this studio session, the company presented a seminar on the new sets and costumes, with Mark Zappone and Larae Hascall discussing costume design and construction, and Norbert Herriges talking about the sets. We got to look at several of the costumes up close (and one inside-out, which was particularly interesting), leaf through the designs themselves and look at the model of the set. There are several short videos on the PNB website about the designs and their construction – Herriges talked at length about the scene painting process, where they transfer designs from the artist’s renderings to actual backdrops. Hascall and Zappone spoke about sourcing fabrics for the costumes – between the two of them working in Seattle and Kaplan working in Europe the costumes include fabrics from all over the place. Taking inspiration from the work that Boal did with Doug Fullington and Marion Smith to recover as much of the original choreographic text for the production as they could, Kaplan looked to the year that the ballet was premiered for his designs – the artists are dressed as people from the 1830s might have been. The designs are lovely, but they are also much more realistic than ballet costumes often are. As of a couple weeks ago, they were still trying to decide if Albrecht would wear tights, or if he would wear a close-fitted version of the narrow pants that were fashionable in male clothing at the time (Boal referred to them as “pights.”)
PNB has been working to develop these education programs, and I think their efforts have really paid off. Part of the goal is just to get people into the theater, by taking away some of the uncertainty that comes with a new experience, but beyond that, by giving us this view of the inner workings and backgrounds of the art form, they give us a chance to look deeper. They take the work seriously, and they take their audience seriously. And so we return the favor.