It’s hard to come up with a brand new dance, but what might be even more difficult is to create a new version of a classic, as Pacific Northwest Ballet is doing with Giselle. The painstaking, fascinating process was brought to light in a Works & Process at the Guggenheim last weekend. (Perhaps you caught it streamed live? (Excerpts from the series are also accessible through YouTube.) Artistic director and stager Peter Boal, Marian Smith (historical adviser), and Doug Fullington (choreography reconstruction) discussed the sources used to piece together the original choreography, by Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, and Marius Petipa. They explicated themes and passages in Adolphe Adam’s music, so that even if you’ve seen it many times, there was something new to gleaned.
Four dancers from PNB demonstrated sections whose precise meanings were explained to the audience. These included many mime sections that, to untrained eyes, might look goofy or a waste of time (and are really easy to mock), but pay homage to ballet’s canon and provide essential groundwork to move the story along swiftly. Smith matched musical passages with words, which reside in the score alongside more obvious character-specific melodies. When phrases were repeated, the second watching was immediately far more rewarding.
Carla Korbes and Seth Orza portrayed the lead couple. It was gratifying to see these two ex-NYCB dancers blossoming into the potential they demonstrated in NY a few years ago. Under Boal’s direction, even in this less formal setting, they gave fully detailed renditions of the choreography, with Korbes showing uncommon restraint, delicacy, and pacing. Carrie Imler and James Moore as well delivered dimensional performances with technical flair. One can only hope that the company brings its Giselle, ou les Wilis, which premieres in June in Seattle, to the East Coast, for we too rarely have the chance to see these accomplished dancers.