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Romantic Giselle Conquers Phoenix Audience

Symphony Hall
11/01/2012 -  & November 2*, 3 (2:00PM & 7:30PM), 4 (1:00PM & 5:30 PM), 2012
Adolphe Adam: Giselle, ou Les Wilis
Ballet Arizona principal dancers, Tzu-Chia Huang (Giselle), Kendra Mitchell-Dahl (Berthe), Astrit Zejnati (Loys/Albrecht), Michal Wozniak (Hilarion), Kanako Imayoshi (Bathilde/Zulma/Moyna), Joseph Cavanaugh (The Duke of Courtland), Nathan Weng (Wilfred), Michelle Vagi, Roman Zavarov (the peasant pas de deux), Jillian Barrell (Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis), soloists and corps de ballet
The Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, Timothy Russell (conductor)
Marius Petipa, after Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot (choreography), Ib Andersen (stage direction), Michael Korsch (lighting designer), John Dinning (scenery and costume designer/courtesy of Les Grand ballets de Montréal)

(© Rosalie O'Connor)

Ballet Arizona kicks off its 2012/2013 season with iconic Giselle, a monument in the balletic repertoire, received last night by a fervent audience.

Prolific French composer Adolphe Adam (1803-1856) is certainly better known on this side of the Atlantic for his Christmas carol Minuit, Chrétiens (O Holy Night) than for the numerous operas and ballets he composed. Aside from his famed Giselle, the quintessential romantic ballet, Adam also composed Le Corsaire, a ballet still performed nowadays, and a rarely heard opera Le Postillon de Longjumeau (The postman from Longjumeau). Other works have fallen into oblivion, but his comic opera Si j’étais roi (If I were King) would deserve to be resurrected.

Giselle tells the story of a young peasant girl who, betrayed by her lover Albrecht, dies of a broken heart. When Albrecht visits her grave at night, Giselle appears and protects him from the Wilis, vengeful female spirits who haunt the forest.

Direction by Ballet Arizona artistic director Ib Andersen reflects the local color of the Rhineland during the Middle-Ages (notwithstanding costumes that are vaguely reminiscent of the Renaissance) in Act I, while the second part - the moonlit “white” Act -, bathed in a Gothic atmosphere, naturally follows the proclivity towards the fantastic. The lavish sets and dramatic lighting offer the expected eerie and sepulchral gloom of the supernatural world of the Wilis.

French choreographer and dancer Marius Petipa (1818-1910) (pronounced like “petits pas” - small steps -, admittedly a well-suited name for a dancer) is still the absolute reference for most Romantic ballets of the classical canon. The enormous technical demands of his choreography are upheld by Ballet Arizona’s Tzu-Chia Huang who dances a vibrant Giselle with dramatic flair, grace, and no sign of strain whatsoever. She wafts across the stage with precision pointe work and is light as a feather in Count Albrecht arms, danced by Astrit Zejnati. In spite of his being a duplicitous and manipulative character, Zejnati manages to garner sympathy through his sheer ardency and estimable dancing. Jillian Barrell is an effortless (seemingly, at least) Queen of the Wilis with great clarity of shapes that she can hold with distinction. Michal Wozniak is ideal for the part of Hilarion: he is tall, athletic, dashing, and sincere.

The corps de ballet shows meritorious technique, as always. Their Act 2 apparition in diaphanous shrouds and vaporous tutus, gliding on the stage with this kind of unnaturalness that is distinctive of the Wilis’ dancing, is simply arresting.

Under the able and energetic baton of Thimothy Russell, the Phoenix Symphony produces an alluring and clear sound, with appropriate dynamics, thus contributing to the quality of the performance.

Ballet Arizona may not play in the same league as the Royal Ballet, the Opéra de Paris Ballet, or the Mariinsky Ballet, but this company must be commended for the excellence of their dancing. They certainly count among the top five companies in the US. Further, they are never afraid of tackling the most challenging repertoire with laudable result. And that was the case last night.

The top picture actually depicts Ms. Huang dancing the part of Myrtha in the 2009 run of Giselle. Regrettably enough, Ballet Arizona was unable to provide photos of the lead dancers in the roles they danced last night.

Christian Dalzon



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