Los Angeles Ballet first danced "Giselle" in its fifth season. Now, at the start of Season 10, it has returned to the full-length Romantic tragedy with great freshness and authority.
At the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on Saturday, the level of classical dancing remained praiseworthy, but the big news involved the attempt to bolster the work's dramatic credibility in Act 1. The unfamiliar Desmond Heeley scenery and costumes (borrowed from the National Ballet of Canada) and the unusually detailed and convincing portrayal of the jealous Hilarion by Alexander Castillo showed that this traditional staging of "Giselle" was being reconsidered or improved.
In the title role, longtime principal Allyssa Bross again displayed a touching sweetness and vulnerability in her early scenes, but the superb fierceness and fury of her mad scene proved a welcome innovation. As Albrecht, Kenta Shimizu always partnered her skillfully, but the passion in his performance flowered in Act 2, where his high Romantic fervor exceeded anything I've seen in Shimizu's seven seasons with the company.
Julia Cinquemani and Dustin True brought a sense of occasion and honed technical abilities to the Peasant Pas de Deux, along with a brilliant knack for recovering perfectly from slips -- she at the beginning of a solo, he at the end. Indeed, True's improvisation could well become an original virtuoso step-combination, if he can repeat it.
A few small problems remained in Act 1: Berthe's incomprehensible pantomime-speech, for example -- not how it was executed by company co-artistic director Colleen Neary, but the mime-text itself.
In Act 2 the company's refined classicism couldn't offset major dramatic lapses. Kate Highstrete's technically flawless but small-scaled dancing and mime as Myrtha never dominated the stage, the corps or the men intended to be her victims. The role needed a diva, and it didn't help that everyone stood around doing nothing in particular when Myrtha's evil power should have faltered in the face of true love -- or the magic of the cross in some stagings.
What's more (spoiler alert), the dawn of Albrecht's salvation became merely a music cue in this version, without the change in lighting or corps attack that can and should be thrilling. One final disappointment: our last look at Albrecht. When you're walking away from love beyond the grave, dignity is no substitute for heartbreak.
That left Act 2 all about footwork: satisfying work by the corps, even better when the deep rapport between Bross and Shimizu informed their dancing. Some of Adolphe Adam's music (on tape) seemed a mite slow for this spirited Giselle. It would be exciting to find her exploiting sudden tempo shifts. But her floating pointe-work and Shimizu's climactic batterie set the seal on an evening that sent Los Angeles Ballet into an ambitious season of full-length classics, boldly and confidently.
Who: Los Angeles Ballet
Where: Program repeats at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale, and at 2 p.m. Nov. 1 at Royce Hall at UCLA