On June 12 and 13, at 8:00 pm the Pasadena Civic Ballet Center opened its parking lot to bleachers filled with masked fans ready to enjoy the warm evening and one of the most beloved classical ballets of the 19th and 20th Century, Giselle. The original version choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot and composed by Adolphe Adam was created for the beloved Prima Ballerina Carlotta Grisi. It was then revived by Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. The story is about an innocent peasant girl who is lured to romance then deceived by a nobleman taking a fancy to her. This leads to discovery, madness and death from a broken heart or, in some versions, suicide. The second act so typical of the gaslight ghostly mood of the Romantic Period of ballet treats us to the conflict of Giselle, her love for Albrecht, and Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, with her soulful corps, moving to avenge all the souls of betrayed young female lovers.
This night, the First Act backdrop is of a small Rhineland town during the Middle Ages revealing a simple thatched roof house on the left. The townsfolk are gathering in front during the Grape Harvest Festival which introduces the characters and townsfolk of the ballet. The lights are full and bright, with Hilarion (Jose Reyes) introducing his love for the main character, Giselle. Through movement and mime he helps the audience understand that he has a connection and is her protector. When she is revealed, she subtly spurns his advances, yet Hilarion tries again and again, ever hoping she will relent, fighting for her love and honor that continues throughout the ballet.
Our main characters are the beautiful shy peasant girl Giselle played by Petra Conti, herself known for her Principal work at La Scala, Boston, and L.A. Ballets. Conti, a delicate long legged beauty with a captivating line carries this difficult ballet throughout. Not only her dancing ability, but her acting in the final moments of madness, heartbreak and collapse in the First Act, and her subtle and sorrowful gravity protecting her beloved Albrecht from the plight of the Wilis, reflects her artistry and professionalism.
Her Albrecht, a Duke and nobleman is played by Eris Nezha an excellent partner making Conti appear as light as a feather, but his own leaps, jumps and traveling steps appear heavy and efforted, perhaps because of a long hiatus due to Covid, and being away from performing. Something that many dancers must now overcome and work through.
The diminutive and expressive, Denise Moses who plays Batilde, Giselle’s mother, reflects a lightness, caring, and a motherly protection. She adds a wisdom and foreboding that foreshadows Giselle’s madness and ultimate death. Moses cradling Giselle’s body, at the end of the first act, is beautifully emotional and heartrending and is a wonderful precursor to the second act.
The demi soloists get a chance to shine in their individual roles. The Peasant girl in the First Act, Taylor Hugens, is a nice young dancer who held her own in her variation. Hugens was partnered by Gunnar Hammarstrom whose presence was strong and confident, with the need to work on partnering and landings. Hopefully with less nerves and more training he will be a fine soloist.
The Queen of the Wilis, Myrtha, played by Katie O’Gara was quite a powerful young dancer/actress who took her leadership role seriously nearly leading the demise of Albrecht and causing Giselle’s unrest as a forever Wilis. She held the attention of the audience throughout, and it was truly clear who “took stage.” Her strength was a good juxtaposition to Conti’s vulnerable and lyrical portrayal of Giselle.
The Corps of the Pasadena Civic Ballet was made up of young and aspiring dancers who were committed to the characters of the joyous peasantry and were nicely rehearsed for the Wilis graveyard scene in the Second Act.
It was clear this performance was well received by many relatives and friends from the cheers and claps that rung out in the warm SoCal June night. It was good to hear live music with an orchestra lead by Maestro Daniel Suk. Even though they started out a bit cold, they managed to find their legs by the second act, so the beautiful strains of Adam’s music managed to play in ones’ head as the dancers took their final bow and the audience gathered and exited after an evening of live music and dance. We certainly look forward to seeing more live theatre and hearing live music in the coming months and years. It was sorely missed these last 15 months.
To visit the Pasadena Civic Ballet Center, click HERE.
Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Petra Conti and Eris Nezha performing in Giselle – Photo by Rudy Amisano – Teatro all Scala