On opening night at the Wang Theatre last Thursday, the company looked wellprepared for both the peasant revelry in the first act and the implacable rituals of the Wilis in the second act. Kathleen Breen Combes made an impressive debut in the difficult role of Myrtha, queen of the Wilis, who rules the forest with unearthly gliding bourrées and gravityless jumps. Myrtha must be completely authoritative, merciless in demanding the death of all males intruding on her domain; yet she has no “acting” to do except for a few imperious gestures.

Contrasting with the extended pas de deux of Giselle and Albrecht in the last act, the Peasant Pas de Deux is a bravura entertainment at the first-act harvest festival. Misa Kuranaga and Joel Prouty were wonderful in this showpiece, exemplars perhaps of the glamorous classical style that followed ballet Romanticism.

Opening-night leads Larissa Ponomarenko and Roman Rykine demonstrated beautiful line and technical command, but as characters they seemed molded out of enamel, fixed in the contrasting attitudes of before and after the betrayal. In addition to their fixed expressive states, they also preserved some lingering affectations that must have been injected into Giselle by other dancers.

The most disturbing of these relics were the exaggeratedly slow tempi taken by Jonathan McPhee and the orchestra when Albrecht first encountered Giselle’s spirit near her forest grave. The super-adagio, later attenuated even further in a duet with deathly ritardandi, turned the dances into stunts of endurance. This musical distortion was first done, I think, by Natalia Makarova, but no one since has been able to sustain the aethereal quality she was able to create.

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Related: Dreaming and remembrance, Love and death, Not quite Nina, More more >
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