Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'Giselle' captivates audience

| Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, 10:28 a.m.

Romantic ballet cast its spell over the audience on Friday night at the Benedum Center when Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre opened it season with a compelling production of "Giselle."

The ballet was first seen in 1841 in Paris, and tells a timeless love story through the lens of its era's idealized norms of femininity, village life and class distinctions, and love and forgiveness - not to mention the supernatural.

Friday night's well attended performance achieved a symbiosis between beautiful choreography and effective mime with a musical score which serves the action with close perfection.

The ballet begins with Prince Albrecht coming to the village, planning to shed his aristocratic garb and pursue Giselle. Christopher Budzynski's portrayal was astutely acted throughout through out the drama, while his dancing was both athletic and tasteful.

The ensuing village scenes featured a cheerful sense of community expressed in buoyant dancing by the villagers in colorful costumes. Eva Trapp and Nicholas Coppula were brilliant soloists in the Peasant Pas de Deux.

Alexandra Kochis commanded attention as Giselle with graceful and spirited dancing that filled the stage. No wonder Albrecht can't resist her generous and optimistic spirit. She treats the predictive "love me, love me not" power of picking the petals of a daisy with absolute faith.

The choreography stays true to the sweep of the narrative, but is filled with stunning technical details, from Budzynski's fluttering legs during leaps to Kochis hoping on point while she extends and retracts her other leg.

The romantic subplot is the love of Hilarion, another villager, for Giselle. Robert Moore was thoroughly convincing in presenting his character's many dimension.

Giselle's world crashes down at the end of the act when Hilarion reveals Albrecht has lied to her and is a nobleman. When he uses a horn to call the royal retinue back to the village, Giselle sees the truth of Hilarion's accusation.

Kochis was inspired in the mad scene that ends the act, particularly in her disassociation from reality. The curtain falls after she dies of a broken heart.

The second act begins with Hilarion arriving with a cross for Giselle's grave. He is badly treated by the Wilis, female spirits jilted before their wedding day who come out at night to ensnare men. The Wilis were led by a coldly imperious Julia Erickson as Myrtha.

The Wilis raise Giselle from her grave, but she escapes her fate and Albrecht's when they dance together after he begs forgiveness and her love for him washes away her feeling of betrayal.

Music director Charles Barker led the ballet orchestra in an extremely impressive performance. His energy, sense of style and expressive nuance were the best possible support for the dancers.

The orchestra played at a very high level. Beyond the excellent solos and high level of accuracy and precision, the musicians achieved a genuine sense of ensemble. The strings generally and first violins especially were evocative to the highest degree, using delicious articulation and an impressive variety of tone colors.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's production of "Giselle" will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Benedum Center, Downtown. Admission is $25.75 to $95.75. Details: 412-456-6666 or www.pbt.org.

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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