Last spring I attended two-mixed programs of Miami City Ballet (MCB) at the Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater in New York City and was impressed by this young, vibrant and talented group of dancers. The ballet company the legendary Edward Villella built on the Miami shores 30 years ago has turned into a world-class troupe. The MCB dancers, with confidence and skill, breezed through highly-sophisticated repertory of works by George Balanchine, Alexei Ratmansky, Justine Peck, Twyla Tharp and Liam Scarlett; and they looked securely at home in music-driven abstractions that have been the company’s bread and butter since its inception.
Having watched Miami City Ballet’s performances of Giselle at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale this month, I was impressed even further. In addition to being exponents of Balanchine’s neoclassicism, this company has all the right ingredients to deliver full-length traditional ballet. From start to finish, this Giselle was superbly realized: stylistically accurate, visually enchanting and emotionally poignant.
Miami City Ballet is a relative newcomer to Giselle, giving its first performance of the 19th-century classic at the Broward Center in 2002. The current production has been adapted and restaged by MCB, with the choreography based on the original ballet of Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot which had its premiere in Paris in 1841.
From head to toe, this was a picture-perfect Giselle, featuring a charming cottage and a stunning vista of a mountain castle in the first act and a marvelously spooky forest in the second. The costumes are tasteful and stylish throughout; the villagers are dressed in attractive attire in various shades of grape and peach, and the ladies of the royal hunting party parade some of the most opulent gowns one will ever see on stage. But most importantly, this production preserves the right mood and atmosphere of the ballet’s story of love, betrayal and forgiveness, with all its essential romantic values made expressive and utterly fresh.
On opening night, Tricia Albertson in the title role was the epitome of emotional and physical fragility – an innocent and sweet girl with a loving heart, but a heart compromised by illness. With her delicate frame and natural poise, Albertson looked like an ideal Giselle; and the purity, naturalness and simple grace that were so vividly present in her style, were also essential to the ballet’s heroine. In the first act, her Giselle was calm and demure, never becoming an imposing, larger-than-life stage presence. A deeply intelligent dancer with a keen sense of romantic style, Albertson communicated her feelings through her clear and perceptive acting and her finely articulated movements, revealing the emotional ups and downs of her character with clarity and earnestness. When she met Albrecht it was love at first sight; you could feel she was instantly smitten by the eager and charming young man and her hopeful joy was reverberating in the little jumps and hops that so radiantly punctuated her dancing.
It was impossible not to fall in love with Renan Cerdeiro’s Albrecht. This young and supremely talented Brazilian dancer gave one of the most satisfying readings of the role I have seen in years. This was an Albrecht to die for – a gentle, good-hearted, and impressionable youth, a nobleman disguised as a commoner who found in the pure and kind Giselle not only the love of his life but also a soul mate. New to this role, Cerdeiro nevertheless looked secure and comfortable; and the details and accents he incorporated into his acting and dancing revealed him as a dancer of sound dramatic gifts. In Act I, when Giselle experienced her brief heartache but disregarded it as if it was nothing, joining the circle of villagers in their exuberant dancing, this Albrecht never took his eyes off her to make sure she was fine. He was so taken by Giselle you knew his feelings were real. When he faced his royal fiancée, Bathilde, after his noble identity was revealed, the dramatic intensity of a long stare he exchanged with her came very close to that of Giselle’s mad scene. You could see in Cerdeiro’s gaze the reflection of Albrecht’s soul – his sincere anguish, frustration, and disdain toward the possibility of the arranged marriage to the Duke’s unkind and arrogant daughter. And after Giselle succumbed to madness and died, he looked devastated, his body completely broken with grief; you couldn’t help but feel his pain and deeply sympathize.
The second act of Giselle takes place in the dark and misty forest populated by the Wilis – spirits of wronged maidens who perished before their wedding day, ethereal and graceful in appearance but merciless and relentless in their quest to avenge their wretched destiny, forcing every man who ventures in their kingdom to dance to his death.
Albertson as a Wili evoked a saint, looking absolutely peaceful and serene. With her exquisite arm movements, delicate arabesques and floating leaps, she seemed both spectral and regal. Her love duets with Albrecht poignantly reflected the tragedy of their love, showing the pulse and deepness of emotion in every detail. As a mournful lover, Cerdeiro danced with dramatic nuance and proved himself an accomplished and secure partner; but it was his phenomenal virtuoso sequences, particularly his astonishingly high and clean beating jumps, that stood out the most.
There were some interesting interpretations in the supporting roles too. Full of passionate ardor, Didier Bramaz was a highly temperamental Hilarion, an unfortunate suitor who uncovered Albrecht’s deception and paid with his life for his devotion to Giselle. The glamorous Jordan-Elizabeth Long imbued the role of Bathilde with a special dose of meanness and cowardice; her angry encounter with Albrecht in the first act was a showstopper in its own right. Callie Manning was a poised and resolute Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis; and Nathalia Arja and Ashley Knox looked cool and poised as her attendants.
One of the greatest pleasures of this production was the stylistically unified, enthusiastic, and animated dancing of the corps de ballet. To see the company’s female ensemble, clad in white, whirling in a fierce circle or spinning in a jaunty waltz was to experience the energy, the beauty and the vibe of classical dancing in its fullest; and the upbeat and electrifying harvest festivities in Act I brought a welcome joy to the proceedings that definitely lifted the spirit of the audience.
It was a special treat to experience this ballet with live music. Led by Gary Sheldon, the Opus One Orchestra rose to the occasion, playing the enchanting score by Adolphe Adam with a sensitive tone and lovely expressivity.