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Gorgeous, fluid Paris Opera Ballet triumphs with ‘Giselle’

Isabelle Ciaravolperforms her role as Giselle. The Paris OperBallet presents 'Giselle' Harris Theater Tuesday June 26 2012 Chicago. | Richard

Isabelle Ciaravola performs in her role as Giselle. The Paris Opera Ballet presents "Giselle" at the Harris Theater on Tuesday, June 26, 2012 in Chicago. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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THE PARIS OPERA
BALLET IN ‘GISELLE’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

When: Through Sunday

Where: Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph

Tickets: $55-$125

Info: (312) 334-7777; HarrisTheaterChicago.org

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Updated: July 28, 2012 6:30AM



The Paris Opera Ballet arrived at the Harris Theater of Music and Dance Tuesday night amid great fanfare, and a glitterati audience was reminded by Mayor Rahm Emanuel that it was only fitting for Chicago to be the first stop in the company’s three-city U.S. tour. After all, this is “a city of firsts [including] the skyscraper, the splitting of the atom and now [Wednesday night], the first simulcast of this internationally admired ballet company, free for those who gather in Millennium Park.”

Whether live or simulcast, watching the Paris Opera Ballet’s production of “Giselle,” which was created for the company in 1841, is a journey back into the very origins of an art form that is unnaturally beautiful, highly stylized and fairy-tale strange — one that requires a mix of ferociously difficult physical discipline and otherworldly expressiveness. And all these qualities are at play in this particular ballet.

Not only is this work the essence of romantic storytelling: Giselle, a guilesless peasant girl, falls madly in love with Albrecht, a nobleman in disguise, and when she discovers he already is engaged to a woman of his class she goes mad with grief and dies, ultimately offering him forgiveness from “the other world.” But it also reveals ballet’s roots in court dancing, with all the complex symmetrical patterns and formations of the exquisitely uniform corps de ballet, who in many ways are the true stars of this company. Those patterns emerge in both the first act’s folk dances, and in the remarkable precision-tooled gatherings of ghostly Wilis (abandoned brides), who appear to float through a ruined graveyard in the ballet’s second act.

Tuesday’s principal dancers ­— Isabelle Ciaravola as Giselle, and Mathieu Ganio as Albrecht — spoke through their technique. Neither is a great dramatic actor, though their initial flirtation scene had great charm. But Ciaravola’s delicacy, lightness, quickness and musicality, along with the sublime beauty of her second act adagio, and Ganio’s remarkably fleet footwork and light-as-air jumps, consistently brought to mind those old prints of 19th century dancers poised between earth and air.

Marie-Agnes Gillot was particularly outstanding as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, fusing exceptional control with an easy majesty and gentle command. The exuberant Charline Giezendanner, partnered by Fabien Revillion, brought zest to the peasant pas de deux. And Christophe Duquenne was emphatic as Hilarion, Giselle’s spurned suitor, even if the pantomime throughout this production feels a bit stiff and old-fashioned.

Not every landing was flawless, and there were occasional bobbles during the evening. But these were more than compensated for by the gorgeous fluidity of a corps of more than two dozen female dancers who exemplify the cohesiveness that comes with Paris Opera Ballet School training.

In addition, the Grant Park Orchestra, led by the ballet company’s conductor, Koen Kessels, sounded exceptionally lush and splendid playing Adolph Adam’s evocative score.

NOTE: “Giselle” runs June 27-28 at 7:30 p.m. (sold out), with a free simulcast at the Pritzker Pavilion tonight at 7:30 p.m. (Rain date is Thursday.) “Epic French Masterpieces,” a mixed bill (tickets still available), runs Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.



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