With its new staging of "Giselle," Dance Theatre of Harlem not only set a ballet classic in a Louisiana milieu, it gave familiar characters new identities--and even family names.
Stephanie Dabney and Donald Williams strongly conveyed the distinctive feel of these recently Americanized roles when they danced in the previously reviewed production, Sunday afternoon in Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
Dabney played the doomed Lanaux girl with a touch of the same easy, folksy humor that Cassandra Phifer again brought to the role of Berthe, her mother. This was truly a black Giselle: The characterization seemed to grow from behavior belonging to a particular subculture. If Dabney had yet to master the mad scene--full of ill-judged effects on Sunday--her highly specific and sincere portrayal validated the concept of the production.
Dabney also danced faultlessly, yet without the otherworldly lightness that should take the second act beyond a mere display of technique. Williams partnered her strongly, but, again, she never floated at his fingertips in the moonstruck epiphanies of Act II.
Though not yet fluent as a mime, Williams brooded magnificently and made the caddish Monet-Cloutier scion seem elegant to the point of mannerism. His anguish and despair were only lightly sketched, but he remains brilliantly promising--a born ballet prince.
Keith Saunders made a blandly sympathetic Hilarion Guidry, with Yvonne Hall and Augustus van Heerden capably performing the peasant, or plantation, pas de deux. Boyd Staplin conducted briskly.
Balanchine's "Square Dance" again served as curtain-raiser, with a delicately fleet Judy Tyrus and a warmly heroic Eddie J. Shellman breezing through the leading roles.