Dance Review: PBT proves it's among best in memorable 'Giselle'


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"Giselle" ranks among the most popular traditional ballets -- although not totally classical by virtue of its romantic nature -- the others being "Sleeping Beauty," "Coppelia," "The Nutcracker," "Don Quixote" and, most of all, "Swan Lake."

But it struggles to keep up with the popularity of the others, yes, by virtue of that romantic nature, which can be perceived as languid (for its droopy arms) and even boring (for the mist-ifying nature of the music).

But occasionally "Giselle" arises from that potential grave to offer the viewer an arresting experience.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre opened its season at the Benedum Center with the familiar Adolphe Adam score, a chance to incorporate the orchestra, which performed admirably under master conductor Charles Barker, despite some intonation problems in the clarinet and bassoon solos.

But the audiences got some fresh insight to this story of a young peasant girl who became engaged to a nobleman, Albrecht, although he was already pledged to another aristocrat. When that is revealed during the course of the ballet, she dies of a broken heart. It showed that PBT can perform with the best of international companies.

However, the first act fell flat on opening night Friday, despite Robert Moore's remarkable performance as Hilarion, the village hunter who is also in love with Giselle. The corps was too casually American to convey a European peasant atmosphere, despite scenic designer Peter Farmer's lovely autumnal setting for the Houston Ballet.

Husband-and-wife couple Alexandra Kochis (Giselle) and Christopher Budzynski (Albrecht) had a good plan. But they failed to go beyond that, to take charge of the celebratory festivities in the first act. It looked just as it was, a plan. The couple mightily recovered in the second act, where Ms. Kochis constructed poetic phrases, although Mr. Budzynski retained hard, deliberate edges to his considerable technique.

However, a perfect artistic storm developed Saturday (Hurricane Sandy serving as inspiration). Christine Schwaner had me at her first entrance, joyfully bounding across the stage, absolutely in love with life.

Anchored by her generous, expressive face, she dazzled with breezy pique turns and teasing balances. Her Albrecht on this occasion was husband Alexandre Silva, but that was not the reason for their charismatic connection on the stage, one that vibrated throughout the Benedum.

He was the perfect Albrecht, certainly one of the most coveted dramatic roles in the ballet repertory, and the perfect partner -- a handsome lover who rued his actions. He also supplied a smooth muscular technique, with a series of double cabrioles and swooping backbend that drew gasps.

Even with famous dancers, the audience is always aware of the artificiality inherent in ballet, yet still relishing the interpretation. This couple was genuine, and they drew the audience into their story with an emotional attachment. It was real. It was honest. It was a privilege to watch them.

But back to the perfect storm. Perhaps the cast sensed all of this and responded to it. Elyssa Hotchkiss was born to play the role of Myrtha, queen of the Wilis (a group of vengeful, jilted brides and perhaps an 18th-century form of feminism), in a portrayal that was nothing short of brilliant. The role took advantage of her tremendous jumps, and she bolstered those with an authoritative porte bras that had both weight and an unearthly aura. Nurlan Abougaliev provided a strong theatrical foil to the story line and showed that, with Mr. Moore, PBT could easily have fielded four Albrechts.

Amanda Cochrane and Luca Sbrizzi impressively scored in the virtuosic "Peasant Pas de Deux," she with her daring brio and unflinching musicality and he with perfectly proportioned aerial turns.

The corps de ballet responded in the sprinkling of group dances in the first act, while the Wili women had a rare sense of sweep and precision that carried the story to its poignant conclusion.

Certainly this "Giselle" was historic, a PBT production that will long be remembered.

theater - lifestyle

Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish can be reached at jvranish1@comcast.net. She also blogs on www.pittsburghcrosscurrents.com.


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