Silicon Valley Ballet’s Production of Giselle

19 Oct

It was a case of something old and something new for this 1841 Romantic Era tale of love, class, love betrayed and love transcendent October 16-18. And, yes, it was the U.S. first, Alicia Alonso’s take of the classic Giselle thanks to Jose Manuel Carreno’s dream to bring it to the United States It was however, something, if not old, borrowed, since the sets and costumes utilized were first seen when this San Jose-based ensemble was directed by Dennis Nahat, a fact overlooked in the pre-performance promotion. Scenic credits go to Gianni Queranata for the excessive floral scenery scenery, perhaps late summer abundance; Act I costumes to Paul Plesh and Act II costumes to David Guthrie with David K. H. Elliott as the lighting designer. Who knows the credit for the recorded music.

While the company possesses three ballerinas undertaking the coveted role of the delicate peasant girl, it has also acquired a principal male dancer in Brett Bauer, one-time member of San Francisco Ballet, principal with the Oregon Ballet Theatre under Christopher Stowell. My main objection to his performance was his hair was too crew cut for Albrecht and his costume in Act II hit at an ungainly length on his hips. I attribute such concerns to the late Russell Hartley; his eye for costume and decor was such that he said, “I get so disturbed by some costumes, I can’t see the ballet.”

Saturday night Ommi Pipit-Suksun made her debut as Giselle, as Junna Ige did in the afternoon. Pipit-Suksun’s face and body lines make for an ideal Giselle; she added inherent diffident movements I consider Asian, endearing, moving through her postures naturally. Her eyes possessed the unblinking attention of a bird, fluttering; ultimately when she realized the betrayal, caged, deprived of the incandescent joy experienced dancing with Loys, Albrecht in disguise. It was wistful, tender, sanity bending inexorably against the facts of fate and class.

Instead of game, Hilarion, hesitancy sensitively portrayed by Akira Takahashi, wanted to give Giselle a white floral bouquet; there were the villagers arriving as he is about to place the blossoms in a receptacle. His approach to Giselle was more physical before the sparring between Hilarion and Loys [Albrecht], upstage until aware of Hilarion’s physical importuning. The tangle of wills provoked Giselle’s anxiety and her sinking to the bench, an Alonso motive seen in Alonso’s Giselle segments on Channel 32.5, a singular contribution Alonso included in her production.

Later, when there was the second attack, her friends rush to provide a chair, and Loys’ concern is more than passing. One could see Pipit-Suksun upstage, gathering her strength as she joined the circling villagers. Avoiding some of the technical challenges, [the toe hopping on the diagonal and dancing before the Courland party because of hyper-extended muscles], Pipit-Suksunl, along with her exquisite presence, conveyed a technically strong portrait of the fated adolescent.

Berthe was ably portrayed by Karen Gabay; not so many years ago, she was a memorable Giselle. The mime scene was expanded, with a Wili appearing in the background. Berthe, corralled a villager physically to demonstrate the ugly fate of woman unfulfilled and male caught at midnight in the forest. Here Alonso has been not only specific, but the background  Wili  is visible only to the audience. I wonder at the connection between Cuban folk rites and interpretation of the ballet’s libretto.

Act II enjoyed spreading rays of light from center stage, moon hovering slightly orange in the background, stage necessities triumphing over scenery. As Myrthe, Jing Zhang’s port de bras, with the other Wilis, demonstrated they were not quite alive, along with steady arabesques moving horizontally across the stage. Skillfully dancing as Moyna and Zelma Amy Marie Briones and Cindy Huang emphasized this semi-worldliness. The clear box sounds of the toe shoes in Zhang’s rendition showed little sign of special Marley flooring, or a sprung floor underneath, the San Jose Performing Arts Center might consider as a good investment.

Pipit-Suksun was elegant, a fluid sprite, tenderly supported by Bauer. One particular touch I enjoyed was the use of simple blossoms in the initial encounter which Albrecht picked from Giselle’s raised arms. No great tossings, it reminded me of Igor Youskevitch’s feats when dancing with Alonso several decades ago, and seemed a fitting tribute.

As Aimee T’sao noted in her San Jose Mercury review, the pity is the production is unlikely to be reproduced soon, giving the dancers the opportunity to grow in their roles, as well as the possibility of hearing an orchestra in the pit once more.

Given only six of the corps de ballet were hired by Dennis Nahat, with thirteen corps dancers arriving during the interregnum and under the direction of Jose Manuel Carreno, it’s difficult to assert how changed the former Ballet San Jose has become. The uncertainty prior to Carreno’s arrival was palpable, along with the deficit non-existent under the Nahat aegis. Given all the adjustments, the new SVB has made a major stride in this production of Giselle. But there still is must yet to be done fiscally and artistically. This production speaks to future possibilities.

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One Response to “Silicon Valley Ballet’s Production of Giselle”

  1. Aimée Ts'ao December 5, 2015 at 8:24 am #

    In the future, please spell my name correctly – it’s Ts’ao, not T’sao.

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