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Houston Ballet, Merci Beaucoup

A Giselle to Treasure

There was a time when Les Grands Ballets Canadiens performed Giselle, the greatest ballet of the Romantic age. Having moved on with success into the age of Kylian and beyond, the folks at Les Grands had the good sense to bring to Montreal the Houston Ballet, a company willing to revisit gossamer, moonlight and tragic love.

By the end of Houston Ballet's Montreal run (April 27-29), as a transplanted Texan myself, I felt a sense of pride for my former home state. Thanks goes to the entire company of Houston's well-trained dancers and to Maina Gielgud, who sensitively staged this wonderfully traditional Giselle.

Everything about this version of the beloved ballet was near note-perfect. Peter Farmer's charming designs for Act One's picturesque village and Act Two's haunted forest conjured up not just the story's medieval setting but also another era in ballet history. So too did Gielgud's coaching and staging hark to "back in the day": Houston's dancers were exceptionally well attuned to the demands of the old-fashioned, Romantic style. Most welcomed also was Gielgud's inclusion of all the original mime-sometimes cut to the minimum in other productions. Even better was the clarity of the mime passages, especially when performed by Martine Harley as Giselle's mother.

As for the dancing during Houston Ballet's closing show, there was much to applaud in the soloist ranks: Lisa Kaczmarek and Randy Herrera performed a solid and winsome Peasant Pas de Deux. In the beginning of the Second Act, Jaquel Andrews, as Myrtha, had some instability with arabesque penchées and promenades, but once that business was over with, she found her footing and, for the majority of the act, danced with an appropriately imperial air and a steely technique that never wavered. (It's worth noting that both Kaczmarek and Andrews are only demi-soloists and they held their own.) Special mention must be made of Ian Casady as Hilarion. Casady made Giselle's rejected suitor sympathetic and both his mime and dancing were effective-so much so, that I kept thinking to myself, "Poor guy, what a raw deal," from his first entrance all the way up until his character's demise.

And what of the lead lovers? Leticia Oliveira as Giselle and Zdenek Konvalina as Albrecht made a sweet pair, a convincing picture of young love. Oliveira danced with a bright and clean finesse throughout both acts. Her mad scene brought to mind old black and white photos of Alicia Alonso, one of Giselle's great interpreters. In the last act, Oliveira's performance heartbreakingly conveyed Giselle's love for Albrecht and her forgiveness for his deceit.

Konvalina, for his part, made for an essentially caring Albrecht. In the first act, you felt his utter delight in being in Oliveira's presence. For all Konvalina's youthful ardor, though, his Albrecht never lost a noble air-if only for the reason that Konvalina has about the most elegant comportment and lines to be seen on any danseur today. Just as impressive were his easy and sharp jumps and beats, particularly his amazingly high and crystal-clear entrechat sixes in the last act.

Still, however satisfying the performances of the leads and soloists were, for these eyes equally remarkable was the superb dancing of the Wilis corps de ballet. Giselle may be famous for its star-making roles for the lovers, but it takes a village-and a troupe of Wilis too-to make the ballet shine. Houston Ballet, from the top ranks down to the bottom, did so admirably.

Kena Herod is Maisonneuve's dance critic. Read other columns by Kena Herod. Or read more entries from her Blog, En Pointe.