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Review – PBT Giselle

****REVIEW TAKES PLACE AFTER SYNOPSIS

Synopsis (from PBT playbill)

ACT 1

The setting is a vineyard village bordering the Rhine.  In the early morning Count Albrecht, accompanied by his squire Wilfred, arrives.  Albrecht is disguised as a peasant, who the villagers have come to know as Loys. The Count has been captivated by the beautiful peasant maiden, Giselle, whose love of life and free spirit expressed by her passion to dance are in great contrast to the burdens of his life as a nobleman.  Albrecht and Wilfred retreat inside a cottage that neighbors Giselle’s home.

Hilarion, the village huntsman and a gamekeeper to the court, who is also in love with Giselle, returns from his early morning chores and pauses before her cottage. The villagers soon join him. They all concur that Giselle shall be named the new Harvest Queen and depart to the vineyards, where they will harvest the last of the grapes before the Harvest Festival. 

Count Albrecht emerges from his cottage disguised as Loys.  Wilfred inspects his disguise and expresses some concern.  Nonetheless, Albrecht dismisses him, and Wilfred leaves reluctantly.  Albrecht, in his guise as Loys, excuses himself from the grape-pickers so that he may be alone with Giselle.  He swears eternal love to her, and she performs the traditional daisy test, “he loves me, he loves me not.”  Hilarion interrupts protesting that he, not Loys, truly loves Giselle.  A quarrel ensues, and Albrecht instinctively reaches for his sword, which as a nobleman he is accustomed to wearing.  This behavior strikes Hilarion as odd.   

The villagers return, and Giselle invites them to join in dance to celebrate the harvest.  Berthe, Giselle’s mother, warns Giselle that her life may be endangered if she over exerts herself dancing because she has a frail heart.  Berthe is struck by a hallucination of her daughter in death.  She sees her as a Wili, a restless spirit who has died with her love unrequited.        

A horn sounds in the distance, and Wilfred rushes in to warn Albrecht that the Prince of Courtland and his hunting party are about to arrive.  Hilarion witnesses this exchange and is puzzled by the deference the squire pays to Loys.  As Wilfred and Albrecht hastily depart, Hilarion breaks into Albrecht’s cottage.

The royal hunting party arrives led by the Prince of Courtland and his daughter, Bathilde.  Giselle and Berthe offer them rest and refreshments.  Bathilde is taken by Giselle’s charm and beauty, and Giselle is equally intrigued by her nobleness.  The two confide in one another and learn that they are both engaged to be married.  Bathilde presents Giselle with a gold medallion for her dowry. After the royal party leaves to return to the hunt, Hilarion emerges from Albrecht’s cottage with a hunting horn and sword, evidence that Loys is actually a nobleman.      

The villagers return and proclaim Giselle the Queen of the Harvest Festival.  The harvest crown is passed from the present queen to Giselle.  To express her gratitude to her fellow villagers, Giselle dances for them, demonstrating the passion she has for dancing.  Hilarion interrupts the festivities to denounce Loys as an impostor.  Albrecht tries to deny these charges and threatens Hilarion with the sword.  Hilarion blows the hunting horn, a signal for the Prince to return, and the hunting party reenters.  Loys’ true identity as Count Albrecht is exposed when Bathilde reveals that he is her fiance.  The devastation of learning of Albrecht’s duplicity is too much for Giselle’s frail constitution.  Losing her will to live, Giselle’s mind becomes unhinged, and she dies of a broken heart.

Intermission

ACT 2

The scene is set in a clearing in the forest where Giselle’s grave lies.  The scene opens with Hilarion beside Giselle’s grave mourning her death.  After being frightened by unnatural occurrences, Hilarion flees into the forest. 

Out of the mist the Wilis are summoned by their Queen, Myrta, to attend the ceremonies that will initiate Giselle into their sisterhood.  The Wilis are all maidens whose fiances have failed to marry them before their death.  With their love unrequited, their spirits are forever destined to roam the forest from midnight to dawn, vengefully trapping any male who enters their domain and forcing him to dance to his death.  Hilarion reenters the clearing and is trapped by the vengeful Wilis.  He is commanded to dance to his death. 

Albrecht, who arrives to leave flowers on Giselle’s grave, is also trapped and commanded to dance unto his death.  However Giselle comes to his rescue. Propelled by her own passion to dance, she dances with him until the clock strikes four, at which hour the Wilis lose their power. Albrecht is saved from death. Giselle returns to her grave and places the medallion, which Bathilde gave her, in Albrecht’s hand as a symbol of forgiveness and her desire for him to be happy once again.

Her power of true forgiveness and selfless efforts to protect Albrecht from death prevent Giselle from being initiated into the vengeful sisterhood of the Wilis, allowing her to rest in peace for eternity

 

AND NOW ON TO THE REVIEW!!!!!!!!!

 

Let me be really blunt: in the entertainment world, there exist certain stereotypes…certain rude, unfounded, ignorant, narrow-minded stereotypes. For instance, a stereotype about authors is that we’re all introverted, unattractive Capote-esque weirdos. A stereotype about jugglers is that they’re all clowns. (Not saying clowns don’t juggle, but I’m stressing the word all here.) And then there’s the stereotype that if you’re a male ballet dancer, you’re gay.

Um, no. No to all of the above. Just no. I know tons of gorgeous authors (why hello there, Jeaniene Frost. How you doin’ Harlan Coben???) and Michael Karas – world renowned juggler – blew that idiotic clown stereotype right out of the water. And Christopher Budzynski, with his broad shoulders, Olympic-medal winning thighs (in the sport of Damn Those Are Muscular!) and a profile that should be on a coin, proved beyond doubt that it takes a real man – regardless of sexual orientation – to dance ballet.

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He starred as Count Albrecht in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Giselle (running now through Sunday) and while he didn’t have as much stage time as his haunting leading lady and title character, he made quite an impact – and not just because of the aforementioned thighs and profile. The sheer physicality of the role was amazing. His grand jetes had such air time you would have thought he bounced off a trampoline first. His pirouettes – and subsequent spotting – were crisp and clean. Don’t even get me started on that upper body as he lifted his Giselle with hardly an effort. But going beyond the technique of the role, there was the character. His Albrecht is the person with whom Giselle has put her sun and moon; everything rises and falls with him. (And fall it does…but we’ll get to that.) Budzynski’s pantomiming, especially in Act One, was wonderful. He was humorous and romantic, smooth and flirty. He was expressive and elicited great laughs from the audience. Not once did I wonder what the heck or huh. So fully developed was his character, so artfully thought out, I got him completely.

You know who else I got???? If you said Alexandra Kochis as Giselle, you’re totally right.

Talk about Tour. De. Force. Wow. I thought Swan Lake was my all time favorite ballet but Giselle just cooked that goose and Kochis lit the fire. Laser-sharp in her technique (those fouettes were incredible!) and astounding as the innocent, blissful, heartbroken and shattered Giselle, Kochis owned that role. Her body was equal parts lithe and muscular, pliant and strong, willowy and graceful. Her profile needs its own coin too! But as with Count Albrecht, she too got her character. She understood every high – the hope and enchantment and wonderment of her first meeting with Albrecht – and she understood every low – the sudden descent into madness, the spiraling nightmare of betrayal and confusion. She understood all of those emotions and wrapped them tightly around expert control of her body. Kochis was mesmerizing.

You know what else was mesmerizing? If you said the costumes, set designs and orchestra, you’re totally right.

Bravo (and brava) to scenery and costume designer Peter Farmer, lighting designer Julia Duro, conductor Charles arker, and stage manager Alicia Reece. You did a truly inspiring job. The colors of the costumes were exquisite. Shimmering browns and glimmering golds and every shade of autumn you can imagine. The scenery was gorgeous. It looked like a painting come to life. Bob Ross pretty much wishes he could paint a landscape as gorgeous as the ones used in this production. (May he rest in peace.) It looked as if a single brush was used, the strokes of it so perfect but not totally smooth. It had texture. And the music…I loooooved the music, especially during the Mad Scene and in Act 2 when Albrecht is being danced to death! At times, it sounded like something Quintin Tarentino would use during Kill Bill. It had this certain fast, unrelenting beat, an undertone of something sinister that just built up the tension until it nearly become unbearable. It was awesome.

You know what else was awesome? If you said Act 2, then you were right!

Act 2 opens in a mist-shrouded magical forest. The Wilis, a sisterhood comprised of affianced women who have died because of being jilted, (wow, I guess there really is a group for everything), flutter onstage, surround a hapless and helpless Hilarion (played brilliantly by Robert Moore) and soon dance him to death. The Wilis (a marvelous Corps) are led by Myrtha (a dazzling Julia Erickson), their queen. She’s pitiless and cruel, a devil not interested in making deals. My kinda character. In fact, this whole thing was my kinda ballet, an excellent Friday night.

So congratulations are in order to the entire cast and crew and especially Terrence s. Orr and Marianna Tcherkassky. They had the unenviable task of finding a way to make this old war horse gallop again, but man, did they find a way. They dusted off any lingering cobwebs to present something wildly entertaining and surprisingly tender. They kept the pacing fast (I couldn’t believe it when Act 1 was over; it felt like it just started) and the dancing lively. They also added a dog into the fray, a big white snowball of a pup named Soleil that had the BEST expression ever! So cute!

Alexandra Kochis talked about the many sides of Giselle and I could see very complex shade of her in this ballet. She is one of the most multi-layered characters in ballet, and I daresay, in literature. And as for the ballet itself….well, it doesn’t have a happy ending, but it certainly has a hopeful one. And sometimes, that’s all you need. (Well, that and love. And this ballet’s got it.)

 

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