Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gizelle at Pittsburgh Ballet, Beauty, Drama, Precision

Review of Pittsburgh Ballet's Gizelle
by Martin Thomas and Helene Vidovich

The Wilis ensemble in the forest, Act 2
Music: Adolph Adam
Libretto: Jules Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier
Staged at PBT: Terrence S. Orr and Marianna Tcherkassky

It has been said that music is the international language. One may argue that so is ballet or corporeal mime. However, when combined, they exponentially increase their impact. With no libretto to reference or language to interpret, there is only sound and the interactions of those on stage, the set designs, lighting and costuming. Masters of these elements dedicate their lives to perfecting their craft and teaching the next generations who will perpetuate their traditions. Pittsburgh Ballet's rendition of Giselle was a window into this long lineage of masters.

The music, written by Adolphe Adam, who also wrote,"O Holy Night," was masterfully played by the Pittsburgh Symphony. The music, from the mid-19th century, was Romantic, programmatic, and of course, dealt with the supernatural. But, unlike most orchestral work of 1841, it included harp and timpani. There were leitmotifs to help guide us and music scored to expose the subtle timbres of the harp and woodwinds.

The first set in full fall harvest colors, complete with a grape wagon, village cottages and a bridge to the outlying forest, transported us back to feudal Europe. The costumes were lush with color, texture and fabric. Tricks of lighting, corps movement and costuming transported the audience into the epoch. A big surprise was the appearance of a great pyrenees walking along in a group scene. The dog had to be persuaded to sit while members of the ballet alternately performed. Clearly, much of the audience focused on the dog!

During the second act, after the death of Giselle, the transformed set and costuming, combined with the dance and music, to create an ethereal effect of the hereafter. Were the actors/dancers dreaming, or was it a rainy or moonlit night?  Were our eyes playing tricks on us, or was it the cast and crew?

There was so much to observe that we could have watched it again. The dancers conveyed the story quite effectively and even made us forget there where no words spoken. Given the grand effect of these "fine arts," it makes one wonder why they are not pursued by more of the public.

Martin Thomas, Musician, Troubador
Helene Vidovich, Freelance Reviewer

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