Giselle is one of the most beloved ballets of all time, but is it a love story or a ghost story?
The posters announcing Angel Corella’s re-creation of the perennial favorite showed principal dancer Oksana Maslova in a white unitard as a Wili, or spirit, betrayed by her lover. It seemed modern and focused on the supernatural. Some in the dance community fretted.
But Corella’s Giselle remains true to the romantic tragedy audiences have come to expect. In fact, of all the ballets Corella has re-created for the Pennsylvania Ballet, it is hardest to discern his footprint here on Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot’s original 1841 choreography.
On Thursday, opening night at the Academy of Music, Maslova was Giselle and Arian Molina Soca her love interest, Count Albrecht.
Ian Hussey, who recently announced his pending retirement at the end of the season, was Hilarion, Giselle’s spurned lover — and a sentimental favorite.
Maslova, a wisp of a dancer, looks the part of Giselle, a delicate young girl with her head in the clouds and a weak heart. Molina Soca is an otherwise engaged nobleman who disguises himself as a villager so he can also romance Giselle.
Giselle’s mother is constantly on her case: Her heart can’t handle the dancing she so loves. But it turns out Albrecht’s betrayal is what does her in.
Yes, Giselle dies of a broken heart. This is the point when it’s best not to think too deeply about the story, as is true of many story ballets.
Maslova and Molina Soca’s dancing (to the Adolphe Adam score) is sublime, but their acting is not as strong, making the tragedy even less believable. Didn’t they just meet?
Pennsylvania Ballet soloists Nayara Lopes and Albert Gordon danced an enchanting peasant pas de deux, and Lopes returned in Act 2 as Moyna, one of the lead Wilis. It is nice to see a dancer of color worked seamlessly into the traditionally “white” Wilis scene (so called for the costumes but often egregiously extending to the cast). That’s something that still rarely happens.
There were many highlights. Dayesi Torriente was that alluring combination of soft and hard as Myrtha, the queen of the Wilis. The second act was generally lovely, from Maslova and Molina Soca’s pas de deux to the rich details of the corps de ballet work.
Choreographers handle Albrecht’s fate a variety of ways. Corella’s Giselle lets him off the hook; though he is forced to waltz until sunrise, she rescues him from the stiffer sentence of dancing to death.
For such a popular ballet, Giselle hasn’t been seen at the Academy of Music since 2012. Under Corella’s direction, we are unlikely to have to wait so long for another look at this visual treat.
Pa. Ballet’s “Giselle”
Performances through March 15, Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St. Tickets: $40-$159, Information: 215-893-1999, paballet.org.