In spirit of the season of the autumnal harvest, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has conjured up a spectacular production of the 19th century ballet, Giselle. An eerily beautiful way to burst into Halloweekend, PBT has once again succeeded in a full and vibrant ballet production.
Inspired by the Slavonic legend of the Wilis women, Giselle is a product of the post-Classical, Romantic period. Romanticism offered an artistic appreciation for emotion, individualism, and nature. As written about by Heinrich Heine in De l’Allemagne, the Wilis women were a group of deceased, affianced women; buried before they reached their wedding day. The Wilis women were said to have hearts unable to maintain their affinity for dance, thus they passed away of broken hearts as a result. In the afterlife, the Wilis women returned to the world at night in order to dance wandering men to death. Giselle, a young peasant girl from a nearby village with a heart of gold, and a love of dance, meets her fate as a Wilis woman. Driven to her death by the stress of two men fighting over her, finding out that her love was engaged to another woman, and her insistence on dancing the days away… Giselle returns in the second act from the grave… Spooky!!
The first act of Giselle depicts the sacred festivities of the harvest festival in medieval, rural Germany. Act I opened the stage with an autumnal warmth– the revitalizing sense of safety and togetherness that the fall weather often brings us– exuded across the stage as the dancers, the musicians, and the technicians invited us into a celebration of the harvest. PBT never fails to entice me with their masterpiece set designs, a definitely impressive factor in this production. Before getting to know the main character Giselle, we meet her admirer/ future fiance, Count Albrecht. Albrecht has come in disguise as a peasant to woo Giselle, a simple maiden girl. Immediately capturing my attention, the Count and his squire not only mastered an introductory allegro with energy and precision, but they did so while embracing their roles as actors as well. Throughout the whole production, something that I found to be most wonderful was the energy maintained through character interaction, which can be extremely difficult while also keeping up with that super fast petit allegro choreography!
Shortly after the ballet begins, Giselle makes her first appearance in a number which was executed with equal parts power and poise, exhibiting both the character’s love for dance, but also the dancer’s solid connection with her role. As the festival continues, Giselle is eventually crowned the new Harvest Queen, a section in which the climax of the first act comes to a peak. In all the excitement, Giselle unfortunately finds out that Albrecht is engaged to another woman… which segways us into a totally sappy, broken-hearted, classic, tear-jerking death scene, in which this production hit the nail on the head with. I loved it. As act one comes to a close, Giselle melts to the ground in an utterly heart-wrenching romantic death. In a cohesive collaboration of performance and design, the first act of Giselle drew me in via aesthetic beauty, as well as the magnetizing energy that made me want to dance, myself– always the sign of a successful show!
Just as I thought it couldn’t get any better, I returned to my seat, glass of wine in hand, to a dark, haunting second act. In the second act, Giselle saves Albrecht from the harm of the Wilis women, but what this act is TRULY about is the after life of these beautiful, jaded women, forsaken by men and love! Adorned in ghost-like wedding gowns and veils over their faces, the dancers playing the Wilis women embodied a ghostly power in their movement, shifting eerily across the stage. It made me think of a vaguely emo Swan Lake… which, in my book, is brilliant. As the second act carried us through the night of the Wilis women, I found myself once again enticed not only by the impeccable skill I observed in the dancers, but the ways in which each aspect of the production tied together to tell the tale of Giselle extravagantly and also clearly. After the show, I felt mesmerized but also revitalized in the spirit of fall!
Giselle is all over for this season, but make sure to catch Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s upcoming seasonal treasure, their production of The Nutcracker!
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre for complimentary press tickets. For tickets and more information about PBT, click here.
Photos courtesy of Rich Sofranko