Pacific Northwest Ballet
February 4, 2023 matinee
I like most often to begin my reviews with personal observations, anecdotes, or commentary, as I feel this helps readers better relate and pulls them (you) into the story. So it goes this round with PNB’s reincarnation of its historic production of the quintessential Romantic-era ballet, Giselle, which they’ve revived after a 9-year absence.
My first male ballet teacher, Bill (William Earl), regaled us once with the true story of how, when he was dancing the role of Prince Albrecht in Germany, he decided to take a completely different approach to his Act II entrance — you know the one — where he slowly enters walking in a ponderous way, holding lilies and wearing a long black cape. The longer these steps the more remorseful, as this shows regret for his actions that caused our heroine’s Act I demise. And the more time you take to get to her grave, the more romantic and mournful it is. Well, Bill, as I said, does something different. His thought was that, being an American, he should take an American approach a la John Wayne (think Western movie-style, galloping in on his horse to rescue a maiden). So he does wear the long cape, but waits and waits until the very last second to enter and running, rushes over to Giselle’s grave, and with feet apart in a wide second position stance and chest up, offers her his arm with palm up, in a gesture of asking forgiveness. The reviewer the next day reported that “…Mr. Earl brought everything on stage, except his horse!”
Well, no horse or John Wayne approach during PNB’s foray into Romantic-era ballet in this glorious and beautiful production. What’s unique about PNB’s version is that it uses historic source material for much of its choreography, with gaps where there is no notation filled in by Peter Boal. We were also treated to three role debuts — Angelica Generosa as the titular heroine, Jonathan Batista as Duke Albert of Silesia (“Albrecht”), and Amanda Morgan as a cold and unforgiving Queen of the Willis. All three were fabulous in their respective parts.
As Giselle, Generosa was terrific. Her Act I Mad Scene was excellent in detail and trajectory. We suffered alongside her. Generosa has technique to spare and each dance sequence was solid and so clean and done with confidence and an underlying sense of joy. Batista deployed his enormous elevation with his entrechat six and other jumping steps; turns not so bad, either.
Morgan’s debut as Myrtha was auspicious and portends great things for this soloist. She also seemed confident in her role and her steps were so well done. Myrtha is a part that demands commanding authority, as this is exactly what she uses with the corps of Wilis and to Giselle, as well, summoning her from her fresh grave. Morgan was also very, very musical. Yes, dancers dance “to” music, but not all dancers are or were as musical as Morgan was this show. Very much a visual and aural treat! It’s interesting to note a class difference — how Myrtha treats Hilarion (“just a peasant”) and the duplicitous Duke, who is treated more regally and with diffidence, even though she makes, or tries, to have him dance himself to death.
Ezra Thomson’s Hilarion (who is also in love with the title character) was also terrific. Always an excellent and good dancer/story-teller, Thomson really got to deploy his chops here. Am I the only one who feels sorry that the Wilis (Myrtha) in Act II condemn him to dance nearly to death, and then toss him into the nearby lake?
Of particular note and charm were Clara Ruf Maldonado and Kuu Sakuragi in the Act I Peasant pas de deux, with crisp technique and good cheer and abundant youthful playful dancing.
One of the stars of the show, too, is the ensemble work of PNB’s amazing corps de ballet — tight and spot on.
I was happy that two semi-solo Wilis were named in the program; too often they are not — Moyna, danced by Leah Terada and Zulma, danced by Yuki Takahashi.
The mighty PNB Orchestra was conducted by Emil de Cou.
Closing on another historic anecdote, but a PNB one — Janet Reed (PNB’s first ballet mistress and really its de facto artistic director) richly entertained us Cornish College ballet majors with, first, her hilarious vocal imitation of Nora Kaye (you’d had have to have been there), and then of how she was (during her American Ballet Theatre dancing years) often cast as one of these two named Wilis, but never as Giselle herself, because, as Reed reported, “They could not envision a red-headed Giselle.” EXCEPT she got her chance (maybe it was the only time) during one ABT performance at Seattle’s Moore Theatre when she filled in as Giselle.
PNB’s production is a keeper and hopefully, we won’t have to wait another 9 years to see it hit the light of day again.