Tuesday, May 31, 2011


When Los Angeles Ballet opened its doors 5 years ago with the intention of creating a world-class classical ballet company, it seemed an unlikely goal. Everyone knows that, in LA, Hollywood usurps power over classical arts. But the company is still in existence and though it may be struggling to survive (and probably always will), it put up an impressive performance of Giselle this month that rivaled far more established companies.

Giselle; choreography by Jean Corelli & Jules Perrot, Marius Petipa, music by Adolphe Adam, is the story of a peasant girl with a fragile heart who falls in love with the wrong guy (we've heard that one before). Prince Albrecht, already engaged to another women, disguises himself in peasant clothing to have a good time, but meets and falls deeply and instantaneously in love with the innocent Giselle. Forgetting himself and his present circumstance, Albrecht proposes to the young Giselle, promising himself to her. Of course, the royal family inevitably arrives, finace included, and Albrecht is forced to face Giselle with the unfortunate truth. Giselle is struck with horror and falls mentally ill, then dies of a broken heart. Giselle then joins the ranks of the mournful spirits of the Wilis (where the phrase "gives me the wilies" derives from). When Albrecht comes to kneel at Giselle's grave, the Wilis appear to haunt him, forcing him to dance until he dies. But love prevails beyond the grave and Giselle exhausts herself in an attempt to save the undeserving prince (the moral there is...?).

Giselle, portrayed by the youthful Allyssa Bross, is given a charming and very appealing innocence. Through Bross does not possess the lines or power of a world-class principal dancer, it appears she was cast because of her innate ability to tear at heartstrings. Giselle is one of the world's earliest full-length story ballets, first appearing at court in 1841. As is typical of such ballets, most of the story is told through mime; theatrical gesturing. Though there are rigorous technical sequences, the majority of the ballet is carried by mime scenes and, therefore; acting. This is where Bross excels. The famed "mad scene" where Giselle discovers the betrayal, is often played like a girl falling to her death, instead of a girl going insane, before falling to her death. Bross seems to hallucinate, fantasize, making strained facial expressions that recall creepy dolls. The scene is nuanced, subtle, so that we see the progression of her insanity and, ultimately, her death.

Though Albrecht doesn't find this kind of clarity in his acting until the very end (my guess is that he appears exhausted because he allows his actual exhaustion to show, instead of covering it up with a smile - as is usually the case in dance). Christopher Revels also brings a youthful attitude to the character, but lacks Bross's focus. What he does possess is an undeniable technical potential that will gain control and finesse with age.

The result is a clean, well articulated, moving, and surprising performance from Los Angeles Ballet. Though the clear technical stars are Allynne Noelle and Zheng Hua Li, who perform a peasant pas de deux, Bross and Revels are fresh, eager, and just rough enough around the edges that LA will be able to follow their growth and their ascendancy to Los Angeles's own principal dancers.

For more information on LAB, click HERE.

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