|| The Patriot Ledger
|| October 5, 2009
|| Iris Fanger
Although it’s just October, the debut of Kathleen Breen Combes in the title role of Boston Ballet’s revival of “Giselle” at Sunday’s matinee is likely to be the most discussed event of the dance season. Recently promoted to principal dancer, Combes has been a vivid presence in a number of ballets, but her characterization of Giselle proves that she is more than capable of carrying a full-length work on her slender shoulders.
At the Sunday matinee performance, Combes did not project as fragile a maiden as the conventional Giselle, nor one as naive, even though she tilted her head and curved her arms in poses reminiscent of the 19th century ballerinas from the old lithographs that illustrate the work, which premiered in 1841 at the Paris Opera. She was a bit of a flirt, playing with Carlos Molina as Prince Albrecht, making him believe that she was reluctant. The couple danced full out in the sequence of buoyant unison jumps as they declared their love in ballet and mime language. Their joyous pas de deux perhaps allowed the vieer to overlook her faintness at the end, due to a fragile heart condition that foreshadows her sudden death at her discovery of her lover’s deception. Her mad scene – the “Hamlet”-like test for ballerinas – was fine, especially for her artistry in stopping still between passages of contorted dancing, rather than keeping to a frenzied pace.
Combes certainly suggested the lovely young peasant girl of Act I, but she absolutely embodied the other-worldly ghost-Wili she becomes after her death, returning from the grave to dance in the moonlight with sisterhood of maidens who died before their wedding day. She combined an ethereal lightness with a strength of character to save her beloved in opposition to Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, crisply performed by Melissa Hough, another newly named principal. Combes’ toes barely brushed the floor as she appeared and disappeared, traveling by tiny bourees (running steps) and when she was lifted to lie prone high in the air by the desperate Albrecht, she seemed truly weightless, thanks to his cavalier-like partnering. Molina seemed to defer to her, to help frame her performance. Elizabeth Olds as Giselle’s mother, performing the mime scene describing her fears about her daughter, and Sabi Varga as the virile, hot-headed Hilarion, the peasant boy also in love with Giselle, added layers of texture to the lives of the peasants on stage.
This mounting of “Giselle,” previously seen in 2007, has been devised by British ballet diva Maina Gielgud. Based on the traditional choreography by Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa, the production is a multi-faceted jewel, not only for Gielgud’s detailed coaching of the leads but for the manner she has guided Boton’s corps de ballet into an immaculate portrayal of the Wilis, the signature image of the work. Who could forget the sudden glimpse of the phalanx of Wilis, emerging from the gloom at the rear of the stage? Or the rows of pale young women as they move in perfect symmetry, not a limb out of place, hopping forward in rows that criss-cross the stage? It’s proof of the company’s excellence that it can field a group of dancers so disciplined and filled with the spirit of the work.
Another pair of treats in Sunday’s cast was newcomer, Whitney Jensen and James Whiteside, now a principal dancer, in the Act I Peasant Pas de Deux. Jensen has joined the corps de ballet this season after winning a clutch of gold medals at various ballet competitions, a coup for artistic director, Mikko Nissinen, to have signed her. Jensen is blond and elegant in her uplifted posture and careful placement of arms; Whiteside employed his masterly command of classical technique to bring him down from high jumps into perfect landings. The success of this revival of “Giselle” promises much more good news for the coming season.
Casting of title role for weekend performances of “Giselle”:
Oct. 8 – Combes
Oct. 9 – Lorna Feijo
Oct. 10 – Misa Kuranga, matinee; Erica Cornejo, evening
Oct. 11– Melissa Hough
GISELLE Performed by the Boston Ballet at the Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston, through Oct. 11.