Monday January 10, 2010 - The Guggenheim's Works & Process series scored another major success with this evening's discussion/performance of excerpts from the upcoming new production of GISELLE which is slated to open at Pacific Northwest Ballet on June 3, 2011. Top photo: the tomb of GISELLE's composer Adolphe Adam at Montmartre. Did you know that Adam was also the composer of the Cantique de Noel, better known nowadays as "O Holy Night"?
The new production, staged by PNB's artistic director Peter Boal, will feature choreography reconstructed by dance scholar Doug Fullington and GISELLE-historical expert Marian Smith based on Stepanov notation circa 1903 and French sources from the 1840s. Pacific Northwest Ballet will be the first American company in modern times to use the Stepanov notations from the Harvard Theatre Collection for a ballet production.
During the Guggenheim presentation tonight, pages from the archives were projected onstage establishing a visual link to the original sources of the ballet. Magical names like Anna Pavlova appear in these manuscripts which notate her early appearances as the Wili Zulma and later as Giselle herself.
Peter Boal joined with Fullington and Ms. Smith for the panel discussion and Company dancers Carrie Imler, Carla Körbes, James Moore, and Seth Orza performed excerpts from the ballet. I sometimes find panel discussions about dance tedious and in general I avoid them, but the Works and Process evenings are always shining exceptions and tonight's was one of their best. The notion that ballet dancers are not good public speakers was put to rest by Peter Boal who speaks with great intelligence, humour, warmth and affection about his art form and the Company he's running. Both Doug Fullington and Marian Smith spoke of their dance-history spadework in getting this production ready, and their enthusiasm and passion steered the discussion well clear of academic dryness.
The presentation is available for viewing here (and it is well worth taking the time to do so) so I won't go over most of what was said, but some elements in the discussion especially intriugued me. I happen to think Hilarion is the good guy in GISELLE and Albrecht is the creep. Peter pointed out that Albrecht/Loys is something of a compulsive liar and trickster, down to such small details as tearing a petal off the daisy to convince Giselle "he love me". That he is later overcome with remose ennobles him to a degree though I often wish Giselle had intervened with the Wilis on Hilarion's behalf rather than Albrecht's. But then I suppose we would not have a good story. (As an aside, in June 2009 I saw ABT's Jared Matthews give a memorably 'different' interpretation of Hilarion which amplified my fondness for this character).
Later, Ms. Smith refers to Myrthe as "evil"; I think of her as vengeful. The Wilis are not just out for bloodsport: each has her particular heartbreak to defend. I suppose one could construct a BLACK SWANesque nightmare scene in which many of the Wilis are pregnant and the stage is littered with dead fetuses. That would drive the point home.
The evening certainly made me appreciate GISELLE more than ever; I've sometimes thought it contains too much mime/narrative and not enough dance (Ms. Smith pointed out it's almost a perfect 50-50 balance) but after watching the beautifully expressive mime of the four dancers tonight, I saw how dance-like it can be in the right hands.
The dancing was so illuminating and so moving. Two former New York City Ballet dancers, Carla Korbes and Seth Orza, appeared as Giselle and Albrecht. Their performance tonight showed us what we've been missing since they headed out West: for each of them has become both a dancer and an artist of the highest calibre. Carla has always had a special lyric quality that suffuses all of her dancing and which was in full bloom this evening. She is a true poetess of movement; of particular beauty was the sight of her foot drifting heavenward in a slow developpe. Her hands and facial expressions are compelling elements of her interpretation.
Seth Orza left New York City Ballet as a handsome young man who danced very well. He comes back to our city now as a danseur noble of the highest quality. His Albrecht, even in these relatively short excerpts and clad in simple grey tights and soft shirt, completely creates the character from the breezy but duplicitous youngster of Act I to the wounded and despairing prince in Act II. Seth's dancing may have been slightly constrained by the limited space of the Guggenheim stage but it was all the more impressive for its combination of spaciousness and control. His landings were light, his turns swift and secure. He and Carla look like the Romantic Era personified.
Seth Orza and Carla Korbes rehearsing @ Vail in 2009. Photo: Caitlin Kakigi.
James Moore's mimed sequences as Hilarion were extraordinary for their clarity and grace; as the passionate huntsman who wears his heart on his sleeve, James looked as handsome as his character is ardent. Nice tension between him and Seth; Carla's miming of her rejection of Hilarion was so clear and decisive that his pain was palpable. James also danced excerpts from the Peasant pas de deux and he was superb, his fancy footwork brilliant.
James Moore rehearsing at PNB, photo by Angela Sterling.
Carrie Imler showed her range in playing Berthe's mime scene in Act I, then the pure dance of the Peasant pas de deux and finally transforming herself into Myrthe. She was totally persuasive in each guise and her dancing was just plain gorgeous. I wish we could see her more often here in Gotham.
Carrie Imler in PNB's production of Balanchine's SERENADE in an image by Angela Sterling. Peter Boal spoke of certain elements that GISELLE and SERENADE have in common; Carrie's dancing amplified this link.
Even though it hasn't premiered yet, I'm certain this GISELLE will join my wish-list of productions I'd like to see PNB bring to NYC. Their ROMEO ET JULIETTE, their Ulysses Dove programme, and several shorter works in their repertoire all sound so appealing and photos from these pieces are so tantalizing. Could some angel please make it possible for the Company to come here annually?