PNB presented one of classical ballet’s greatest tragedies, Giselle, on its February program this year. The ballet is a giant to mount, and PNB’s artistic director Peter Boal first staged it for the 2010-2011 season. Some 19th century French sources added to the authenticity of the production: a mid-century Parisian rehearsal score, a full notation of Giselle by Théâtre de la Monnaie director Henri Justamant—and a turn-of-the century St. Petersburg score using Stepanov notation. A big shout-out to dance historians Marian Smith and Doug Fullerton who consulted on the project.
The performance in the 2013-2014 season featured Jérôme Kaplan’s sumptuous costumes and brilliant scenic design— evocative of privileged nobility and European peasants, as well as spirit worlds that haunt. Lighting by Randall G. Chiarelli enriches the production with ethereal luminosity. Rescheduled again in 2019-2020, the pandemic delayed the program until this year.
The ballet rightly belongs to its two main characters—Giselle, performed by Lesley Rausch, and Albert, performed by James Kirby Rogers. Rausch is an expressive dancer with impressive flexibility, and in this ballet she calls on all of that to portray the emotive Giselle. With her high extensions and soaring grand jeté, her performance is gripping. She’s light on her feet, even as she hops on point. She floats, returning to earth ever so softly. Her entire performance exudes innocence. Rogers is a gorgeous dancer remarkably precise in his batterie, including his impeccable landings. But the two principals are truly something to watch together—it looks like they are pressing on air, their movements are so deliberate. Their soulful, romantic pas de deux is wondrous, as is the work of the entire ensemble.
Tender, otherworldly, fragile—Peter Boal has staged a strikingly charming and enthralling production. His Giselle highlights the sensitivity of the vulnerable, the crushing pride of the nobility, the steadfastness of a peasantry—and the fierce spirit of a young woman, thwarted.