FORT WORTH -- It's baffling that in all his years in ballet, Texas Ballet Theater artistic director Ben Stevenson had never staged the classic 1841 ballet Giselle. That is, until the one that opened at Bass Hall on Friday night.
Perhaps the lack of a compelling story kept him unenthused. Whatever the reason, now he has staged one, after the choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, that the company can be proud of. The cast at Friday's opening (which remains the same at the matinee today; the main performers tonight and at the Sunday matinee are different) hit pitch-perfect marks.
Using sets and costumes from the American Ballet Theatre, this production looks like a million bucks. It's too bad the opening-night audience wasn't as full as it normally is for a warhorse story ballet of the repertoire, especially at the opening of the season (the World Series can't be blamed; Friday was an off-day).
What outshone the spectacle of the visuals were the leads, Leticia Oliveira in the title role, the peasant girl who falls in love with Albrecht, danced superbly by Lucas Priolo. In Act I, when she finds out that he can't be with her because he's betrothed to a duke's daughter, she dies of a broken heart. That act is pretty, with some choice showcase moments for members of the company (Angela Kenny and Simon Wexler were standouts).
Giselle is a ballet role that requires credible acting, and if we already knew that Oliveira can turn on the charm with her dancing skills, we now know that she can convey a world of emotions through her facial expressions. The end of Act I, where she starts to go insane, was riveting.
But the real beauty comes in the second half, when Giselle appears as a ghost in the cemetery as Albrecht mourns her. Here, Priolo got the chance to show off his athleticism. But the star was the band of Wilis, the white-tulled spirits who follow their queen Myrtha (Katelyn Clenaghan).
This movement calls for their spot-on unison, and they were exquisite, earning applause that is usually reserved for soloists.
The only thing that would have made it better would have been live music. In this economic climate, Texas Ballet Theater is still using canned music.
Although Adolphe Adam's music sounded good with the hall's acoustics, a live orchestra is sorely missed.