by Sigrid Payne DaVeiga
February 3, 2007 -- The Merriam Theater, Philadephia, PA
The audience waited in anxious anticipation for the curtain to open this Saturday evening for a performance of Pennsylvania Ballet’s much-awaited production, “Giselle”. Adolph Adam’s beautiful score began as dramatic dark shadows danced on the underside of the balconies foreboding this tragic tale. This production opens on a perfectly simple backdrop containing the image of a castle in the distance set in contrast to the peasant’s cottages that occupy the front of the stage. As the sun came up, Alexei Charov entered as Hilarion, leaving a gift on Giselle’s front door and blowing her a kiss of longing as he departed.
Sergio Torrado, who debuted this evening as Count Albrecht, entered in an extremely flattering costume with a hue of lavender that glows, portending his royalty and distinct from the subtle, flat hues of the villagers’ costumes. Riolama Lorenzo, in her first performance as Giselle this season, entered looking flirtatiously for Count Albrecht. There was an initial moment in her opening when Lorenzo may have been interpreted as forcing the coy vulnerability of Giselle, but she quickly and easily slipped into the skin of the greatest tragic heroine in classical ballet.
The corps created a lovely backdrop, moving effortlessly through the lovely formations of Marius Petipa’s challenging choreography. Meredith Reffner as Bathilde, Count Albrecht’s betrothed, entered with her entourage in the midst of the village’s revelry. The two real dogs on stage added a nice touch – they behaved very well, even when the music and crowd on stage swelled. The necklace Bathilde bestowed on Giselle was sharp and heavy, capturing the weightiness of this exchange between the two women.
The only disappointment in Act I was the pas de deux performed by Barette Vance and Yosbel Delgado. In a ballet where so few dancers are highlighted, this seemed an odd casting choice. The footwork in this variation is elaborate and difficult; unfortunately, Vance and Delgado made the piece look just that. Delgado’s jumps had minimal height and he landed with a heaviness that seemed out of proportion for a male dancer his size. Although he had some nice turns, he did not partner Vance well and seemed to stumble around her at times. They looked uncomfortable as a pair.
Riolama Lorenzo came into her own as the tale of the peasant girl, Giselle, unfolded in Act I. Torrado provided her with the support of a partner who seems to have known Lorenzo’s dance forever, as if the two were born for these roles. The spotlight was almost irrelevant as they captured the gaze of every audience member with their smooth and exquisite performance this evening. The audience’s anxiety was palpable as Giselle discovered the catastrophic truth about her love, Count Albrecht. Lorenzo was heartrending in these moments as Giselle went mad. Her crazy laughter and enactments of the previous loving moments the two shared were painful to watch. This closing scene was impressive and absolutely poetic; Lorenzo embodied ultimate and disastrous longing as she fell to the ground in death and despair. Lorenzo rose to new heights tonight as a ballerina; she exceeded expectations in her delivery of this legendary role. She brought audience members to tears in a way only Giselle could.
Act II opened on the woods where Giselle lay in her grave, with Hilarion placing a cross over it. One or two of the Wilis floated across the stage in rapid bourres. They were haunting in their beautiful white costumes, reminiscent of wedding dresses, against the dark wooded backdrop. Gabriella Yudenich performed as Myrta, the Queen of the Wilis. She was lovely and the picture of grace. Her beautiful serious face and smooth controlled movements were absolutely perfect in this role. The corps was fabulous as the Wilis. The silence in the audience and on stage was striking as they danced in perfect control of these arabesques. In the quieter moments of the music, a whisper would have been audible as the audience’s captivation and awe filled the Merriam Theater.
Valerie Amiss and Barette Vance were soloists among the Wilis. They were sweet, but Vance did not deliver much more than her performance in the first act and Amiss was merely sufficient. The emotion captured by The Pennsylvania Ballet tonight was moving and brought this production to new levels for the company in the midst of a clean technical performance; Amiss and Vance did not reflect this in their highlighted roles, though.
Hilarion is, of course, the other tragedy in this tale, whose ruin comes as fault for loving a woman that never loved him in return. Charov performed adequately in this role; he seemed less of a dancer and more of an actor, though. The story of his demise seemed lost this evening and Hilarion’s character was almost distracting as the audience awaited the arrival of Torrado.
What Lorenzo and Torrado captured in Act I was even more fantastic in Act II. They were an absolute pleasure to watch. Torrado is an artistic force and such a match for Lorenzo. His presence on stage was magnificent, his delivery of the choreography impeccable. Lorenzo was beautiful; her strong possession of this piece surpasses her previous performances. Her final adagio was delivered with precision and control; her extensions had great grace and height. She embodied the tragic longing of a woman whose love is lost forever treasuring the brief moment she has to dance with him again.
The Pennsylvania Ballet delivered a fantastic performance of this timeless masterpiece of unrequited love that crosses the boundaries of eternity. Lorenzo and Torrado surrendered sweetly and spectacularly to these roles and rose to the occasion of such a production. I want to go back and see this again, and now cannot wait to see their upcoming “Carmina Burana”.
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