Pennsylvania Ballet opened its 49th season with Giselle Thursday night at the Academy of Music and made it clear why the work has such staying power.
One of the world's most frequently performed ballets (with Nutcracker and Swan Lake), Gisellewas choreographed in 1841 by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, and reworked several times by Marius Petipa. It is breathtakingly beautiful, from the courtyard scene to the romantic pas de deux to the lush corps de ballet in long puffs of white tulle to the memorable Adolphe Adam score.
This run of Giselle is notable as the last dance for beloved principal Arantxa Ochoa before she retires from the stage. (She has already begun the next phase of her career, as principal instructor at the newly reopened School of Pennsylvania Ballet.) Ochoa was to perform Friday night, as well as in a final performance at the Oct. 28 matinee.
But Julie Diana, who danced the title role Thursday, was wonderful as well. Her strong dancing and acting and delicate features made her believable as a young girl, and later a ghost defending her feckless lover, Count Albrecht, from the vengeful female spirits called Wilis. Albrecht was played by her real-life husband, the reliable Zachary Hench, the flirt who breaks Giselle's heart.
Gabriella Yudenich, who was promoted to soloist shortly after her breakout debut as Myrta, queen of the Wilis, in 2007, reprised the role and was just as mesmerizing, her fluid arms and quick bourees as light and ghostly as the part demands.
That entire second-act scene at the graveyard was stunning. The corps dancers do not get much difficult dancing as the Wilis, ghosts of jilted brides, but their precision and lines are what make some fall in love with ballet. They were led by Barette Vance Widell and Abigail Mentzer; the two made a lovely trio with Yudenich.
There were a few missteps, and one was amusing: Jong Suk Park as Albrecht's friend Wilfred regally promenaded across the stage with two fluffy hunting dogs, one of which got to center stage, lost interest, and had to be coaxed the rest of the way.
The other lapse involved what should have been a light-hearted peasant pas de deux. Evelyn Kocak - whose charming performance as Wendy in last spring's Peter Pan led up to her recent promotion to soloist - danced proficiently but appeared stiff, nervous, and uninvested in the part. Her partner, newly minted principal dancer Jermel Johnson, usually an explosive jumper, nearly fell several times.
Giselle makes for a crowd-pleasing season opener at a transitional time for many of the company's dancers. Along with Ochoa's departure and Kocak's and Johnson's new roles, Lauren Fadeley, Brooke Moore, and Ian Hussey will be performing for the first time as principal dancers. So the entire run is sure to feature interesting performances.
October 21, 2012
by Ellen Dunkel