The ballet company, which is run by Dan Guin and his wife Jane Tyree, can draw on many a connection in the dance world for their educational mission and for a little bit of celebrity dazzle for its shows. And so over the weekend of July 29-31, the troupe returned to Jean Corrali and Jules Perrot’s 1841 classic Giselle, which has long been a standard story ballet, admired for its ancient, tragic story and its sweet, genial score by Adolphe Adam, a skilled French composer of the early Romantic era (his other big hit is the Christmas perennial O Holy Night.)
For this presentation, Guin was able to invite back the Bridgett Zehr (a native of Sarasota), late of the English National Ballet, as Giselle, and Gray Davis, a dancer with American Ballet Theatre, as Albrecht. Also on hand were Nicole Muratov, a Boca Ballet alum now dancing with the Bordeaux National Opera Ballet in France, as Myrtha; Shannon Smith, a veteran of several U.S. dance companies, as Hilarion; and Sanjay Saverimuttu, a dancer with the Louisville Ballet who also trained at Boca Ballet, as a member of the pas de trois in Act I (on July 31; he danced Hilarion on July 29).
Zehr was delicate and light-footed, supremely graceful and endearing as Giselle in her Sunday afternoon performance. She doesn’t have to dance any showstopper pirouettes in this role, but she does have to be a compelling tragic heroine, and that she was, almost floating through the role like the ghost her character was to become. She was lithe, limber and magically light, compelling as a deceived village girl and vigorous as a determined wili in Act II.
Davis danced Albrecht without the effortfulness frequently seen in male roles like this; he, too, was remarkably lightfooted in his kicks and jumps, and cut a fine figure as a handsome cad. In the Act II pas de deux, he and Zehr were surpassingly tender as he gently posed her, getting the right feel of time having come to a halt.
Muratov’s entrance as Myrtha at the beginning of Act II was terrific, slowly moving up to the front of the stage amid the fog en pointe, and she was a stern commander of her supernatural army. Smith was a good Hilarion, with a nice sense of energy and outrage, and a believable feeling of exhaustion as he dances to his death.
The pas de trois, which featured a strong Saverimuttu dancing with Anabel Alpert and a very good McKenzie Byrne, was especially exciting for the dancing of Alpert, whose brilliant footwork in her solo portion was marvelous; she stood out as the Fairy of the Golden Vine in last season’s Sleeping Beauty, and surely she is bound for bigger things.
The corps de ballet had many good moments, particularly with the Wilis in Act II, where they showed beautiful precision in barring the way out, sticking out their arms with fierce finality. The corps that danced as the villagers in Act I was also notably precise, and Guin’s choreography was busy and colorful.
Guin, who drew on the original Coralli and Perrot staging for the ballet, does a good job of providing interesting stage business as well as dance moves. Since story ballets are essentially mime performances, actions have to be clear and narrative arcs plain in order for viewers to understand what’s going on. You could follow this Giselle without knowing the story beforehand, and that’s to be applauded.
Costumes, by June Landrith and Ines Lopez, were lovely to look at, and the set (Stott Stevens and Seton Smith) and lighting (Don Tolj) were quite effective given the drawbacks of the Spanish River High School auditorium in Boca Raton. In short, it looked like a traditional production of Giselle is supposed to look.
It’s too bad local dance companies don’t have live orchestras to work with (surely a successful grant proposal is in the realm of possibility); it doesn’t really hurt the ballet as a work of art, but as theatrical experience, it’s less interactive. Sunday, the recorded score was much too loud, and patrons could be heard complaining about it at intermission, especially ones closer up to the stage. Nothing changed after that, though, and the decibel level remained close to ear-splitting through the second act. There’s no good reason for that; these sound levels should be checked carefully before the performance.
Boca Ballet Theatre is able to bring good professionals to work with its students, and its presentations of classic ballets remain well worth seeing, not just for the big names but for the sparks of young talent that can be seen emerging from the corps. The company has done laudable work for a quarter-century, as Muratov and Saverimuttu’s success shows; here’s hoping, as I always do for local arts groups with a long track record, that they are able to get up to an even higher level sometime in the next 25 years.