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1841 to 2012 - 171 Years, One Great Performance

Oregon Ballet Theatre's 'Giselle'

by Dean Speer

March 3, 2012-- Keller Auditorium, Portland, Oregon

Simple. Elegant. Profound. Moving. Sad. Precise. Eloquent. Beautiful.

These are just some of the adjectives that came to mind while viewing Oregon Ballet Theatre’s new production of “Giselle” which closed Saturday night at the Keller Auditorium.

Descriptors, however, fail to adequately paint a word picture of just how impressive the production, in toto, is. With intricate and lovely drops, properties, and costumes shipped over from Florence and a fresh and interesting, yet “traditional” staging by Lola de Avila, this “Giselle” never fails to inspire, read clearly, and move as this Romantic-era story plays out.

I was also impressed by just how many people were jamming the lines to the box office, queuing up to get into the closing night show, not wanting to miss it. I was even more impressed with how knowledgeable the OBT audiences have become – applauding the first appearance of the ghostly Queen of the Willis, Myrtha, as she floated across the stage making liquid bourées [Alison Roper], lauding Xuan Cheng’s [Giselle] dainty hops on pointe to clapping for her Act II entrance from the grave, spinning madly in attitude for Myrtha, and finally, showing their recognition and well-deserved appreciation of both Chauncey Parsons’ turn as Albrecht and that of Lucas Threefoot as Hilarion.

Applauded too was the corps de ballet with their ensemble “chugs” in arabesque, building the tutti effect as successive lines from each side of the stage came charging in to join the group. They were a group cool to Hilarion’s ineffective pleas for mercy as they were later to Albrecht’s but, he, saved literally by the bell of dawn was left to mourn and regret his actions.

We were treated to a new-to-us version of the Peasant Pas de Deux that traces its roots to one of the original productions where apparently not one but two duets had been prepared for Act II for the two lead characters, Giselle and Albrecht, but which was either dropped early or not done. Reconstructed by Pierre Lacotte of the Paris Opera Ballet, de Avila replaces most of the Peasant pas with this, the exception being the coda of emboîté sauté and balancé phrases and poses. Delightful were Julia Rowe and Ye Li. Trained at the legendary Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and at the San Francisco Ballet School, recently promoted soloist Rowe was partnered by new-to-the-company Li who originally hails from China and most recently had been with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. Both were 100 percent into their parts, showing élan and charm and technique to burn.

I’ve long been a “Giselle” watcher ever since my first male ballet teacher, William Earl, regaled us with stories – particularly of the one where, in Germany, he was taking the lead role of Albrecht and decided, that being American he should take more of a John Wayne approach to the part than the usual remorseful and slow walking onto the stage in Act II, with black cape flowing and trailing behind [the longer the cape, the more remorseful and Romantic]. So he waits until the last minute, runs over to Giselle’s grave, thrusting out his arm to ask forgiveness. The German dance critic later sniffed, “Mr. Earl brought everything to the part of Albrecht on stage except his horse.”

Fortunately, for us there was no horsing around with this production, where each cast member played their role seriously and were of one artistic goal or palette and where the evening more than met my expectations of not merely a good time at the ballet but a great one.

The mighty OBT Orchestra was led by Maestro Niel DePonte.

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