Lewisville — When explaining the underlying theme of 19th century Romanticism and its popularity in dance to college students, many respond with puzzled looks. Why would audiences enjoy a ballet about yearning for something you can never have?
The iconic Romantic ballet, which premiered in 1841, survives and thrills because of its narrative range, haunting beauty, and evocative staging and movements by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot. Although the choreography (especially that in the second act) moves slower than what 21st century audiences are used to, it’s enormously satisfying to watch a company successfully convey the plot and emotions while brilliantly executing its difficult vocabulary.
That’s exactly what happened at the MCL Grand Theatre in Lewisville, as LakeCities Ballet Theatre takes on the ambitious ballet again. Their first staging in 2009 brought together then-soloist of American Ballet Theatre Sarah Lane (before her Black Swan fame) and high school senior and LBT member Steven Loch as the principal characters. Since then, Lane has been promoted to principal at ABT, and Loch has danced his way up the ranks of Pacific Northwest Ballet to soloist. If this review has to give a singular reason to see this performance, it’s these two.
The ballet opens in Giselle’s (Lane) quaint village. Her betrothed, Hilarion (Shannon Beacham) professes his love for her, but her heart belongs to Albrecht (Loch), a duke who disguises himself when visiting her. The three performers deliver clear, leisurely pantomime (as coherent as the ballet sign language can be) with grace and ease. A mesmerizing Loch patiently and lovingly dotes on a charming, bashful Lane, and the two demonstrate an affectionate duet with precise ballottés. The peasant ensemble’s simple yet impeccably danced choreography allow the leads to shine and only heightens the excitement of the courtship.
Denise Clarkston as Giselle’s mother Berthe proves she’s equally talented in gestural storytelling, as she warns them of the dangers of the wilis, the ghosts of scorned women. Afterwards, a splendidly dressed royal hunting party arrives with the one thing that could easily steer attention away from the dancers on stage.
Greta, the rescue greyhound who found her current home by way of Greyhounds Unlimited, obediently stays by her handlers for an impressive amount of time in the first act. Although she’s absolutely precious, Juan Vera and Michelle Lawyer deliver such a striking Peasant Pas de Deux, that they steal the focus away from the furry creature in the background. Vera’s cabrioles and solid tours en l’air prove exhilarating, but Lawyer’s delicate solos equally match.
The enthusiasm peaks with some fast footwork and intricate pointe choreography, and never once does Lane stumble or bobble. Her superb technical skills are undeniable, but the real display of her artistry comes with the end of Act I, casually dubbed the “crazy scene.” The crowd discovers that Albrecht has been secretly courting Giselle, and he’s betrothed to Bathilde (a beautiful Braylyn Voller), who’s with the hunting party. Lane’s perfectly-aligned torso breaks and contorts with heartache as she progresses through a myriad of facial expressions and movement dynamics before collapsing dead. A palpable sorrow permeates with the closing curtain.
The cheery, colorful village scene transforms into an eerie forest graveyard at nightfall, as the two men who loved Giselle mourn at her grave. Beacham flings about the stage with forceful, impressive coupé jetés, while Loch trudges heavily in his grief. The only thing hindering the act is the size of the stage, as Hilarion’s desperation at being sentenced to die by dancing with the wilis feels stunted due to lack of space.
Act II finds its greatest success with the wilis, danced by LBT members. Carly Greene nails her role as Myrtha, their queen, who has technically demanding solos at the start of the act. Her effortless balancing and consistently stoic yet regal expression prove that she’s well-deserving of the role. Ensemble members demonstrate impressive skills with shapes signature to the role and even display a precision and cohesiveness rarely found among dancers that age. Mikaela Seale and Arika Shio shine as demi-soloists.
What’s even more notable is that the pre-professional dancers hold their own against Lane’s flawless dancing and emotional performance. The pinnacle pas de deux tugs at the heartstrings, as Giselle forgives her true love and protects him against his death sentence. Loch displays brilliant pirouettes and convincingly performs the part of the exhausted noble. The agonizing moment where they separate, she to her grave and he to the land of the living, demonstrates why the tragic journey is worth trip.
The magnificence of Lane and Loch, however, point beyond their respective talents and illuminate the unique qualities of Romantic ballet. The suspense, the anticipation, the waiting with bated breath as one hangs on every développé and arabesque, validates the art form’s enduring allure.
Hopefully, we won’t have to wait nine more years to see LBT share Giselle again.