A startling, intriguing Giselle from Pennsylvania Ballet

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

Famed illustrator and gay icon Edward Gorey once said in an interview about his own work, “Ideally, if anything were any good, it would be indescribable.” The ballet masterpiece from 1840, Giselle, is very good indeed, and it falls to us to have to describe it, at least in some modest fashion, as printed space allows.


Pennsylvania Ballet is now presenting a magnificent recreation of Giselle which is on view at the Academy of Music in Center City Philadelphia until March 17. Artistic Director (and former international ballet star) Angel Corella recreated the work which began with Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot. It is lovely to look at, with sets and costumes from Louisville Ballet, and lovely to hear the score by Adolphe Adam so nimbly and sensitively conducted by Peter Stafford Wilson.


The plot is awash with Gothic thrills. A young virgin, amazingly beautiful, yet shy and fragile of constitution, is pursued by a master huntsman and a mysterious stranger, who happens to be the local Earl. He is disguised. Under this disguise, he seduces the girl, and is about to marry her when the huntsman uncovers the nobleman’s perfidy. It appears that the Earl is already engaged to a noblewoman. Zounds! This shock causes the girl to become mad, and dance to her death. In Act II, we are in a cemetery. The girl is dead. The huntsman comes to the gravesite, but he is attacked by Willis, the vengeful spirits of virgins wronged by men. He is later forced to dance by the Queen of the Willis to exhaustion, and is drowned by them in a lake.  The queen has the same idea for the noble youth who as it happens is also in the graveyard at midnight delivering floral homage to the woman he loved and wronged. His tears of remorse arouse the sympathies of the ghostly girl who protects him from her wrathful queen. Dancing as fatal punishment allows us to enjoy about 20 minutes of exciting dancing. Dawn and the ghostly girl prevail, the spell is broken, and the girl is free to rest in peace as the nobleman lives to rue his evil deeds.


Mr. Corella has chosen to highlight what many in the audience will be experiencing for the first time: a softer, more fluid choreographic style, which we would today associate with Bournonville. An interesting dialogue was overheard during intermission. An elegantly attired woman was with her children. They were totally puzzled by much of what was occurring onstage. It seemed that they didn’t know the plot, and were expecting more of the dazzling Russian school of dancing personified so thrillingly by the Tchaikovsky ballets. This may have also been the reason behind the rather calm reception of the audience to much of the work. The conductor, in a bold move, chose to keep his orchestra to a modest decibel level and paced the music in a stately, relaxed way. This was refreshing, but it caused its own issues. Without blare and bombast from the orchestra, the thumping landings of a few principals became noticeably jarring. This was especially the case with the often exposed dancing of this evening’s Myrtha, Queen of the Willis. Of course, the two magnificent stars, Oksana Maslova as Giselle and Arian Molina Soca as Count Albrecht moved, acted, and performed beautifully, both together and alone. Mention must be made of the stupendous corps of Willis. All the women were breathtaking.  The audience went wild with applause several times, and it was well deserved. The parade of fabulously groomed Borzois enchanted. Heartfelt thanks go to Mr. Corella and to his company for the audacity to bring this lambent classic to us.


Gothic intrigue was abundant this evening since the corporate sponsor was West Laurel Hill Cemetery. There was a troubling floral device on display in the lobby. A gnarled, small tree was covered with moss depending from its branches which were festooned with dead daisies drooping therefrom. The scene was enlivened by peeled tree bark, ferns, and fungus at the base.  The only thing missing were preserved ravens. Several tykes were eager to have their photos taken by their parents with it. Altogether, this Giselle was a memorable evening indeed.


Hurry to secure your tickets to Pennsylvania Ballet’s lovely, evening-length Giselle. It’s at Philadelphia’s historic Academy of Music only until March 17. Next will be a mixed bill April 4-7 featuring works by Balanchine, Robbins, and Neenan, all with music by Stravinsky. For information about these performances and the rest of the season, visit www.paballet.org .



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