PNB’s ‘Giselle’: A 19th-century ghost story comes to life
A review of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s 2014 production of “Giselle,” featuring soon-to-retire ballerina Kaori Nakamura in the title role.
Seattle Times arts writer
Pacific Northwest Ballet, through June 8, McCaw Hall, Seattle Center; $28-$174 (pnb.org or 206-441-2424). Kaori Nakamura is scheduled to perform the title role again at 2 p.m. Saturday.
What’s that pale, veiled wraith I see, gliding through the shadows of a twilit glade as if barely touching the ground? It’s a Wili — a vengeful spirit of a bride dead before her wedding night — and it’s one of the most glorious sights in “Giselle,” an 1840s ballet that’s ultimately a delicately haunting ghost story.
In 2011, Pacific Northwest Ballet mounted a new version of the work, based on historical documentation and created by artistic director Peter Boal with dance historians Doug Fullington and Marian Smith. Now it’s back and even prettier; with brand-new costumes and sets from Jérôme Kaplan (designer of “Roméo et Juliette”) and lighting by Randall G. Chiarelli, this “Giselle” glows like a 19th-century oil painting come to life.
There’s always been something ghostlike about the bourrée — that series of tiny, trembly steps on point in which ballerinas serenely glide sideways — and it’s used to full effect in Act II: On Friday’s opening night Kaori Nakamura, longtime PNB principal dancer who’s retiring this month, seemed to be made of air. As Giselle in Act I, she had a charming tentative quality, as suits a young girl first charmed and then devastated by the deceptive attentions of a duke (Jerome Tisserand). Emerging from her grave in Act II, she’s confident but barely present; Nakamura’s limbs seemed to float (particularly in a seemingly endless arabesque) so effortlessly that you believed any moment she could waft away. The performance, filled with detail (I was particularly struck, in Act I, by the beauty Nakamura brings to a simple walk on point) and commitment, was the last of this ballerina’s many gifts to PNB’s audiences. She will be greatly missed.
The long-legged Tisserand was dashing and precise as the duke Albrecht, and Carrie Imler’s Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, was a creature of such strength and mesmerizing focus that you wish she had a full-length ballet of her own. (An origin story, perhaps?)
And the look of “Giselle” was a pleasure, from the elaborate framing of the sets (Giselle’s village, wreathed in vines and branches, looks like a vintage diorama) to the old-school use of follow spotlights and the glorious silken whirl of the Wilis’ tutus. It’s an old ballet, and it creaks in a few places: most notably the Act I peasant pas de deux (which feels like filler, despite the dancers’ best efforts) and the historically correct yet musty use of mime. But Boal, Kaplan and company have created something wonderfully lasting here — and, in Nakamura, a heroine who will haunt your dreams.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org