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American Ballet Theatre


by Kathy Lee Scott

November 6, 2009 -- Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, California

The normally brilliant American Ballet Theatre brought a lackluster production of "Giselle" to the Orange County Performing Arts Center for a six-day run. At the Nov. 6 show, Xiomara Reyes portrayed the title role, partnered by Herman Cornejo as Albrecht. Jared Matthews danced Hilarion, with Stella Abrera as Myrta, Queen of the Wilis.

Kevin McKenzie staged the ballet based on original choreography by Coralli, Perrot and Petipa. Unfortunately, he didn't take the opportunity to increase the amount of dancing during the first act. What resulted was a less engaged corps de ballet, who seemed unable to generate interest in the action by the principals. Instead of everyone having his own story, the corps stood around doing nothing for most of the first act. In other story ballets by ABT, the corps always had business during group scenes.

Despite this disappointment, the dancers gave admirable but not outstanding performances. Reyes played coy with Cornejo during their pas de deux and flower dance. When she plucked a "he loves me" petal, she laid it happily in her lap. The "he loves me not"petals she tossed to the floor. Cornejo's attempts to kiss her prompted her skittering away, overjoyed at his attention yet unsure about this new feeling. He snatched up the discarded flower, pulled one petal from it and presented it to Reyes to show her that it would foretell his love for her. Their interplay captivated the audience, yet not so much that minor technical problems weren't noticed. Reyes could have held the rond de jambe en l'air at its peak longer.

Karin Ellis-Wentz as Giselle's mother performed her mimes and misery clearly. When she warns her daughter that dancing will kill her, you believe her. She made her dislike of Albrecht palatable with her glares at him. She also had the task of miming the story about other young girls who died before their wedding days to flit among the trees, forcing unfaithful fiancés to dance to their deaths.

When the royal party arrives at the village (while Albrecht hides), two borzoi hounds preceded them, giving a nice touch of realism to the scene. A member of the Borzoi Club of California, Kathleen Novotny, provided the pair. Luciana Paris played Bathilde, Albrecht's fiancée, and Vitali Krauchenka portrayed her father. Their costumes by Anna Anni brought color to the stage, with purple, rust and gold. Paris' red gown dominated the group. Her jaunty hat added to her allure and arrogance.

Fascinated by these rich people, Giselle touches Bathilde's hem, who at first is offended, then, touched by the girl's naiveté, gives her a necklace. The two young ladies discuss their upcoming marriages but neither says who the lucky men are. Of course, both are talking about Albrecht. Only Hilarion knows Albrecht's secret, but he waits to expose it toward the end of the act.

Meanwhile, the villagers offer to entertain the royal party with their dancing, bringing the Peasant pas de deux couple forward. Danil Simkin and Sarah Lane danced the roles, although the pair showed little warmth between them. In the sequences, Simkin outdanced Lane, who needed to stretch her neck longer during the adage. Her attack on the fouetté turn from Simkin's arm appeared sloppy. Lane didn't distinguish her beats en pointe from the other steps.  In contrast, Simkin's double cabrioles were clean; his split sissones spectacular. During the group dance by the corps, the step sequence seemed more appropriate to character shoes instead of pointe shoes.

In this version, Giselle hears and sees the Wilis before she succumbs to a broken heart. Reyes effectively contrasted the buoyant moves of Giselle in love with the weaker ones when she was dying. She performed the mad scene by the book and died in Cornejo's arms. His putting her limp arms around his neck was effective. Also poignant was Ellis-Wentz's shoving him aside to wail over her dead daughter.

For Act 11, lighting director Jennifer Tipton used lightning flashes to introduce the Wilis when Hilarion comes to visit Giselle's grave. The flashes plus a Wili running across the stage was enough to frighten Hilarion. Because he followed the original choreography, McKenzie missed an opportunity to use Matthews' abilities. We saw Matthews' dancing only in the short segment, right before his character dies.

Abrera as the Wilis queen gathers the other jilted girls to induct Giselle to their world. Abrera bourreéd so quickly, her feet blurred. She maintained her balances on the soutenus. However, she needed to show more strength in her gestures. Simone Messmer, as the Wili Moyna, showed off her flexible back during her brief solos.

To a melancholy violin, Albrecht enters with lilies for Giselle's grave, dug somewhere in the forest. He ignores his squire's (Luis Ribagorda) entreaty to leave before the Wilis show up. Instead, Albrecht throws himself on his dead love's grave. His bereavement breaks when Giselle appears, and the pair renew their declarations of love for each other. As a pair, Reyes and Cornejo matched each other in height and intensity. They interacted well, making the tragic relationship believable. Cornejo was the perfect partner, gently setting Reyes down onto pointe from the various carries and lifts. Reyes only wobbled once, touching a foot down between a developé and promenade in second. During the frantic section when the Wilis compel Cornejo's character to dance until death, he executed clean beats for his aerial work.

The corps danced together for the most part. Yet the members' timing seemed off when they flung Cornejo and Matthews to keep them from escaping during the "dance to death" sequences.

Instead of being transported to another world, this reviewer was aware of efforts by the dancers to create this decent showing of the classic "Giselle." Cornejo gave a more notable performance than Reyes, who created an entertaining, if not outstanding, Giselle.

Conductor Ormsby Wilkins aptly led members of the Pacific Symphony with sensitivity to the dancers' needs.

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