Giselle at the Pacific Northwest Ballet / by Kevin Swantek

This last Thursday I received a last minute invitation to see a preview of the Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of Giselle at McCaw Hall. My only other ballet experience was watching the contemporary choreography of Director's Choice back in March. Normally I wouldn't consider ballet to be my thing, but in both cases I was with good company, so I was happy to attend.

Giselle is what my friend called "story ballet", so it's best described as watching a play told through dance. The Director's Choice show was very different. There were 4 different pieces (TAKE FIVE...More or Less, State of Darkness, Kiss and World PremiereMemory Glow by Alejandro Cerrudo), each of which came across as being far more physically demanding than Giselle, but also I have to keep in mind that all the dancers in Giselle were on stage dancing for a much longer duration than the dancers in the Director's Choice show. Giselle is a two hour show, with many of the dancers on stage for much of the ballet. In Director's Choice the dancers danced for 20 - 30 minutes for each of the choreographed pieces, and each piece had a different cast of dancers, so they could put all of their energy into those 20 - 30 minutes.

The story of GiselleThe ballet is about a peasant girl named Giselle who dies of a broken heart after discovering her lover is betrothed to another. The Wilis, a group of supernatural women who dance men to death, summon Giselle from her grave. They target her lover for death, but Giselle's love frees him from their grasp. (Wikipedia)

Having limited experience with ballet, I will say that I'm most impressed with contemporary choreography. Comparatively, "story ballet" feels a little like the dancers are kind of walking through the story on stage. That's not to take anything away from the dancers in Giselle. The technical demands of this ballet are apparent, it's just that the pacing of the dance was much different than my only other comparative experience.

The things to note about this production of Giselle are the sets, and the costumes. The set piece in the first act takes place in a small village down from a distant castle. The second act set piece takes place in a dark wilderness cemetery. In both acts the set pieces were created from a series of simple two dimensional cutouts for trees, but were layered in a way that gave the stage floor great depth. Having personal experience being on the McCaw Hall stage for the Seattle Opera as a supernumerary actor, I can tell you that this stage is ginormous, and so the scale of these productions are always impressive. This production was no different. The trees and the lighting in both acts were great. I don't want to spoil the staging of the end of the ballet, but how they use Giselle's headstone is quite beautiful.

The costumes in the first act weren't terribly interesting, but the Willis' in the cemetery in the second act are something else. If I'm remembering what my friend told me, their costumes were made of chiffon, and floated beautifully as they danced. 

On the whole, I don't think that Giselle was my kind of thing, but I appreciated the opportunity to see this ballet. Seattle is a great arts city, and I'm always impressed by the level of quality that comes out of Seattle, even if the thing I'm watching isn't my bag.