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Dance review: American Ballet Theater's 'Giselle' at OCPAC

November 4, 2009 |  7:02 pm

Giselle” is nearly perfect, even if the ballet’s composer, Adolphe Adam, was no Tchaikovsky. It’s got love, betrayal, redemption and death, not to mention scenes of painterly dancing. As the style of contemporary ballet grows ever harder-edged, it’s comforting to return to “Giselle,” a retreat of watercolor prettiness and deeply felt emotions. If you’re lucky, the mad scene will provoke a good cry.

Giselle3 It’s no wonder then that the American Ballet Theatre has presented “Giselle” since its debut season in 1940. ABT's latest verion is currently at the Orange County Performing Arts Center through Sunday and the current production, staged by artistic director Kevin McKenzie after the Coralli-Perrot-Petipa standard, is certainly picturesque, with storybook sets by Gianni Quaranta and richly appointed costumes by Anna Anni. But the opening night performance Tuesday fell far short of perfect and this viewer was dry-eyed throughout, though different cast members did raise hopes at key moments.

Ballerina Julie Kent, who is in her 24th season with ABT, had our sympathies, if not our heart, as Giselle. Her portrayal contained nifty character details. Pulling petals off a flower to help her determine if the nobleman-in-disguise Albrecht really loved her, for example, she dropped the positive omens in her lap, and left the others on the ground.

But Kent was also emotionally restrained, and her dancing dry. Her doomed heroine remained lifeless. Kent emphasized the girl’s frailties, without drawing for us the bubbly girl who will later defend and forgive the man who deceived her. Normally an exceptionally light dancer, she was unaccountably earthbound Tuesday and unable to hold poses for long. For her character’s iconic solo moments, however, she marshaled enough energy for steady hops on toe, and lifted skyward for the various series of beats, providing momentary excitement. 

Another ABT veteran, Jose Manuel Carreño, was Kent’s Albrecht, and he enveloped her in an attentive warmth and always-steady partnering. His ardor was apparent, if not overwhelming, and his clashes with rival Hilarion (Gennadi Saveliev) had appropriate tension. Bravura dancing was for another night, but Carreño did not disappoint, thanks to his elongated line and lyrical style.

Three dancers in supporting roles stoked the only real fire. As the Village Huntsman who adores Giselle, Saveliev brought a needed spark to the first act with an outsized portrayal.

Isabella Boylston and Yuriko Kajiya were immediately noteworthy for the strength and accented musicality they brought to their solos as Moyna and Zulma, the two henchwomen of the Wilis’ queen. Keep on eye out for these two ladies. 

The magisterial Veronika Part would seem the perfect Myrta, but, like Kent, she was unsteady on this evening. Maria Riccetto was cautious but ultimately lovely, while Jared Matthews showed strain in the Peasant pas de Deux.

The corps de ballet, on the other hand, was a consistent pleasure, thanks to uniformity in the second act and active engagement in the first. The Pacific Symphony, too, with ABT principal conductor Charles Barker on the podium, rewarded us with a concert that was a driving force for the onstage action.
This production’s one crucial failing is its mad scene. Everyone — including Giselle — wanders about, looking unsure why they’re there. More direction, and a little melodrama, would go a long, long way.

--Laura Bleiberg

Above: The Willis in the American Ballet Theater's "Giselle." Credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times

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