‘Giselle’ a true original

  • By Jackson Holtz Herald Writer
  • Friday, June 3, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

Pacific Northwest Ballet‘s production of the classic, “Giselle,” is a grand experiment.

For the first time in America, local scholars are using original, century-old source materials to stage one of the most famous ballets in the canon.

Peter Boal, PNB

‘s artistic director, decided to create an original staging rather than using tried-and-true versions that have been handed down from one company to the next.

He hopes to transport audiences back in time by digging into archives and blending three historic documents with contemporary thinking into a newly reinvigorated, never-before-seen interpretation.

“This is a great opportunity to revisit a great ballet,” said Doug Fullerton, PNB’s assistant artistic director. “It’s kind of a new old. Sometimes going back is going forward.”

Fullerton is an expert in Stepanov notation, an arcane style of dance directions and the equivalent of sheet music to a musician. It’s kind of like a screen play in stick figures, Fullerton said.

Through the study of dots, lines, dashes, x’s and o’s, Fullerton and University of Oregon scholar Marian Smith have worked with the company to put on this “Giselle.”

“It just makes the ballet richer,” Fullerton said.

For him, it’s a bit like cleaning the Sistine Chapel. It was gorgeous before, resplendent after.

Giselle tells the story of a fair maiden, love, madness and grief.

In PNB’s new production, Giselle’s character has more emotional range. She has more spunk and it makes it even more surprising when she loses her mind, Fullerton said.

Fullerton and Smith went back to three documents consisting of choreographic notes. One was believed to come from Paris, about 1842, that was used to help bring Giselle to St. Petersburg.

The second was created by Henri Justmant in the 1860s. The document recently was rediscovered in Germany and this is the first time in decades a company has used it.

Lastly, PNB is using a Russian notation from the turn of the 20th century. That one is believed to have been used in famous productions of “Giselle” in Paris and London, Fullerton said.

Many comic scenes with villagers are restored to the ballet, breaking up the dark and tragic narrative.

The production has captured national attention. While some dance critics may be leery of this innovative approach, Fullerton hopes it reignites interest in classical ballet.

“We want the audience to enjoy it,” he said. “We want it to be successful on stage.”

PNB’s “Giselle” is scheduled to be performed at 7:30 p.m. today, Saturday and June 9, 10 and 11. Matinees are scheduled at 2 p.m. Saturday and June 11, and at 1 p.m. June 12. All performances are at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle.

Tickets cost $27 to $165 and can be purchased at www.pnb.org or by calling 206-441-2424.

Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447; jholtz@heraldnet.com.

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