Academy of Music
March 9, 2019 at 2pm
Pennsylvania Ballet’s Saturday matinee performance of Giselle began with the customary pre-performance announcements – no photography or videotaping, please turn off cellphones and electronic devices, etc – but a few chuckles could be heard in the crowd when the sponsor was announced. This performance of Giselle and all performances during the company’s two-week run are presented by West Laurel Hill Cemetery. Moments later, Anthony Haller, Vice President of the Board of Trustees, took the stage for a few brief remarks and shared a tidbit of ballet history with the audience: Mary Ann Lee, who was born in Philadelphia in 1823, danced the title role in the first American performance of Giselle in Boston in 1846. She retired in 1847 at the young age of 24 (for health reasons according to Wikipedia), and died in 1899 – and is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery.
Giselle is the latest full-length classical ballet to be re-staged by Artistic Director Angel Corella for Pennsylvania Ballet, after choreography by Jean Coralli (with whom Lee studied in Paris) and Jules Perrot. There are six different Giselle/Albrecht pairings, however this afternoon was the only performance for soloists Yuka Iseda and Aleksey Babayev in the lead roles (at other performances, Babayev dances the role of Hilarion and in the Peasant Pas de Deux, and Iseda dances the role of Moyna and in the Peasant Pas de Deux [not with Babayev]). While both demonstrated excellent acting and technical skills, Iseda in particular was spectacular in this afternoon’s performance.
In Act I, Iseda’s Giselle was at first shy and hesitant, innocent but full of life and energy despite her weak heart. Sweet and affectionate with her mother Berthe (Jessica Kilpatrick), she gazed at Albrecht adoringly as she executed her steps precisely – and seemingly effortlessly. Iseda held her balances so steadily that she seemed to be frozen in time – and danced with such control that she sometimes appeared to be moving in slow motion. But her “madness scene” was astounding, staggering, and heartbreaking all at once. From her wild manic movements to the nearly imperceptible tremble of her hands to her evolving facial expressions, Iseda’s performance clutched at the heart of every audience member.
Opposite her, Babyev’s Albrecht was a steady and capable partner, and showed off his own athleticism in his series of leaps, crisp entrechats, and controlled pirouettes. His mime and acting was effective – initially confident, somewhat cocky, and confrontational in his interactions with Hilarion; then later dejected and despondent.
Ian Hussey as Hilarion was reliable, strong, and steady as usual – his presence on Pennsylvania Ballet’s stage will be missed after he retires at the end of this spring season after a 15-year professional career. Kathryn Manger and Peter Weil in the Peasant Pas de Deux were energetic and lively, and seemed to gain confidence and composure with every sequence. The corps was colorful and vibrant, though the men were somewhat rough and tumble – there was a near miss as one dancer hurtled over the back of another, leap-frog style – but everyone remained on their feet and bursting with enthusiasm. But let’s face it – at the end of Act I, Iseda’s performance was all anyone could think about.
In Act II, Hussey’s faithful Hilarion encounters the Wilis, led by Myrtha, danced gracefully by Alexandra Hughes, whose bourrées were so quick and light she seemed to float on air. Hussey once again displayed his passion and agility as Hilarion is forced by the Wilis to dance to his death. The women’s corps of 24 with Moyna (danced by So Jung Shin) and Zulma (danced by Misa Kasamatsu) created stunningly beautiful visual patterns, simultaneously serene yet ruthless in their haunting of the men in the forest.
Pennsylvania Ballet’s women’s corps continues to exhibit their proficiency in performing in precise unison, the audience bursting into applause as the women crossed the stage in seemingly identical arabesque positions regardless of the varying shapes and sizes of the dancers themselves. They have mastered transitioning seamlessly as if they are one living, breathing, morphing organism. While the audience may have grown accustomed to expecting this level of artistry from the women’s corps, they still clearly appreciate their prowess as evidenced by the frequent applause not just for the featured dancers, but repeatedly for the movements of the corps.
The greatest applause – and whispered exclamations, and incredulous gasps – were reserved for Giselle, now a Wili herself. Iseda, no longer manic, no longer full of youthful innocence, was as controlled as ever, every movement of her body gracefully deliberate – she was simply ethereal. Babayev shows more emotion as he mourns Giselle’s death, his posture and movements expressing his loyalty and sadness. Together the pair danced tenderly, poignantly, pulling at the heartstrings of the audience as they created heartbreaking images of doomed true love.
Pennsylvania Ballet continues to tackle more iconic classic ballets, recently announcing their 2019-2020 season will include Corella’s version of La Bayadere, and will revisit Don Quixote, the first of Corella’s re-stagings when he became Artistic Director in 2016. Judging from the packed theater at this weekend’s matinee, and from its vocal and enthusiastic applause during the program, audiences will continue to flock to the theater to be enthralled by the depth of the company’s talent.