By Tara Mitton Catao
We all know the story. We know about love gone wrong. We have seen it before but we are always willing to be pulled back and re-experience the saga. Love is intoxicating to us all.
The great romantic full-length classical ballets epitomized love and its ensuing drama. Every ballet dancer longs to dance these iconic roles. The dancers of today have so much more technical prowess than the dancers for whom these works were created almost two centuries ago, and clearly this physical expertise adds a definite sparkle to these traditional works.
But often today’s dancers lack theatrical prowess. With the vast amount of pantomiming that is required to push the storyline along during these lengthy story ballets, this lack of connection and commitment to gesture and facial expression can lead to flat and disengaging performances.
But that was not the case Saturday night at the Kravis Center, when Jennifer Lauren and Kleber Rebello debuted in the title roles of Miami City Ballet’s rendition of Giselle, the most cherished of the 19th-century ballets. Beautifully suited for each other both in physical stature and movement quality, they gave quite a memorable performance.
Lauren was beyond lovely and enchantingly believable in her gentle portrayal of the coveted role of Giselle, the winsome but frail local peasant girl who falls in love with the nobleman Albrecht, who for his own amusement is posing as Loys, a fellow peasant. Rebello was handsome and engaging with his aristocratic arabesque line and his caring partnering. There was a natural and tender chemistry between the two that entreated us to become involved while we watched as their personal tale of love gone wrong unfolded.
The ballet requires the female lead to go from one side of the emotional spectrum to another. In Act I, Giselle is naive and playful as she flirts with Albrecht during the wine harvest celebrations in her village. When a hunting party of nobles arrive, Albrecht’s deceit is revealed and Giselle is heartbroken. The role requires her to go from the height of carefree joy to a dramatic fall into a madness brought on by her lover’s betrayal which causes her weak heart to give out and she dies.
This is a tall order in itself and then, in the “ballet blanc” of Act II, she must return as an ghostly apparition that summons the strength to defy Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis, in order to save Albrecht (whom she still loves despite his duplicity) from his own death.
Lauren quietly captivated. She was soft and delicate with an expressive upper body, beautiful fluid arms and lovely demi-pointe articulation in her footwork but she also showed strength and clarity in her overall technique giving strong and moving performances in each her variations. And very notably, her acting was infused with a genuine, natural quality that had both depth and nuance, vividly bringing her young and innocent Giselle to life.
Though sometimes the role of Albrecht is portrayed as a “bad boy,” Rebello’s Albrecht radiated elegance both in his character development and in his dancing. The line of his back leg in his simple arabesques and grand jetés was splendidly refined giving the pure choreography of Jean Corelli and Jules Perrot impact. Rebello’s clean technique shone throughout but especially in his Act II solo and in the series of entrechats that Rudolf Nureyev inserted into the famous choreography.
Lauren and Rebello danced together with identical attention to their port de bras and intertwined focus. Their partnering was effortless and the ethereal lifts in Act II just hung in the air. It was an auspicious debut for both.
Jordan-Elizabeth Long, in her MCB debut in the role of Myrtha, is a strong and capable dancer who presented her character with authority albeit rather stoically. Sternly commanding her maidens, she gave a competent performance but her role interpretation would benefit from more character enrichment.
Callie Manning gave a clear and convincing performance in the role of Berthe, Giselle’s mother, which was a solely pantomime part. Renato Penteado was proficient in his portrayal as Hilarion, Giselle’s spurned suitor, though he seemed to lose power in his stage presence in Act II.
Ashley Knox was featured in both acts, faring better in her role as Zulme, one of Myrtha’s attendants, where she was paired with the usually attention-grabbing Nathalia Arja, who gave a surprisingly flat performance. Knox also danced in Act I with Shimon Ito in the Peasant Pas de Deux. Here she lacked clarity and confidence, especially as Ito was in strong form, cleanly and succinctly fulfilling his steps.
From time to time, we all need to be transported to another world and perhaps, after this unprecedented election period, we needed it even more. The sets and costume, courtesy of American Ballet Theatre, were gorgeous — sumptuous and rich. The corps de ballet was clean, well-developed theatrically and energized. Lauren and Rebello were very believable as the in-love Giselle and Albrecht and Adolphe Adam’s eminently danceable music with its reappearing nostalgic leitmotifs was played with ease by The Opus One Orchestra under the baton of conductor Gary Sheldon.
Miami City Ballet’s production of Giselle was the most cohesive presentation of a full-length classical ballet I have seen the company do and so, on Saturday night, after we were successfully transported to a world of beauty where love endures, it was no surprise that the appreciative audience stood during the bows to enthusiastically applaud.