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In fact, one hardly heard a footfall throughout this two-act ballet, significantly given how close one sits to the action in Warner’s relatively compact hall, and the fact that fast and frequent jumps are a hallmark of choreography. Communicating a supernatural flight quality is crucial, and the Washington Ballet excelled in this, especially in the second act, as Giselle’s ghost rises from her grave after succumbing to a broken heart and whirling around to save Albrecht from her revenge on the same manner. light-footed and spectral sisterhood.
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The Washington Ballet Orchestra, during the relay of Charles Barker, chief conductor of the American Ballet Theater, offered a sparkling account of Adolphe Adam’s music, emphasizing its lyricism and operational churn. Barker and Ormsby Wilkins, ABT’s music director, orchestrated the score; it is a perfect match for the ballet’s small but deeply talented orchestra.
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The quality of the dance in this production is high, an honor for the attention to technique and details from the romantic era of ballet, which artistic director Julie Kent and associate artistic director Victor Barbee brought to their staging. (They are both former, longtime artists with ABT, hence the conductor connections.) They unveiled this production in 2017, in their inaugural season at the company.
At that time, the respectful care of the directors and dancers was evident. But the drama in “Giselle,” the narrative part, was undertreated. It is still an area for improvement. The tone is so equal through the two acts that the story loses focus here and there. It’s not like excitement and high emotions do not exist in “Giselle”, one of the oldest ballets still performed regularly – they do, but the dancers need help to convey to the audience what is going on, and what’s at stake for this attractive couple of lovers.
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It is telling that despite all the sheer buoyancy in the opening scenes of Act 1 – Giselle’s embarrassing encounter with Albrecht, their well-behaved dances with and with the villagers – the ballet really came to life as Sona Kharatian swept on. On Thursday, she played the character role of Bathilde, the princess with whom Albrecht is engaged – a dangerous little fact that he has kept secret from Giselle. Kharatian, an experienced company member and rehearsal assistant, has always been a dancer with sharp dramatic fire and stage-filled charisma. These qualities electrified her non-dancing role here: Her expressive transition from cheerfully condescending royal to authentically captivated admirer of Giselle anchored the ballet in something real.
It was Kharatian’s moment in this scene – watching her hard heart melt – that threw Giselle into a new light. Kharatian’s Bathilde helps us to see through the class differences that this ballet boldly instructs us to make, to open up and see a person other than oneself with sympathy and affection. How revolutionary. “Giselle” premiered in Paris in 1841, after all, amid growing social unrest.
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Oscar Sanchez, as Hilarion, the rustic villager fighting with Albrecht for Giselle’s love, also added necessary texture to his character. He walked differently from Albrecht and the royals, with more shoulder-length, sideways movements. He collapsed sharply as he knelt affectionately at Giselle’s feet, contrary to Perez’s upright control.
As it is, the dance in this production sounds quite beautiful as abstract patterns and period-typical manners and flourishes of pure technique. But it is, of course, designed to do much more than that. It is intended to depict human vulnerabilities and pierce the heart. The story is timeless, as the resident researcher Natalie Rouland writes in the program booklet, pointing out the ballet’s themes of upper-class corruption and the (horrific) power of organized women, as incorporated into the ghostly act of Wilis in the second act.
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Then there is the moral injustice of “Giselle”. Albrecht’s quarrel has a high price: the girl he has wronged dies, and so does her most loyal suitor. Her mother is left crushed, the village is revolted, the royal court is scandalized. And Albrecht? He is showered with lilies and love beyond the grave, offered a metaphysical forgiveness of the ghost from his dead honey. He is admittedly alone, but spiritually improved, with his future ahead of him.
So many flames are waiting to be lit here. A dance playwright may be able to help this company unleash its dramatic potential, sharpen its narrative impact, and elevate this production just as much higher from where it stands now: an appealing portrait of a bygone era, lovingly preserved.
Washington Ballet “Giselle” will perform through Sunday, with cast shifts, at Warner Theater, 13th and E streets NW. $ 56- $ 124. According to the company, selected seats are available for $ 40 (plus fees) using the SPRING code. washingtonballet.org.