'Giselle' excels by leaps, bounds

Houston Ballet digs deep to reach new level of artistry

13 June 2005


If only being in love came with a set of instructions as clear as those given to the dancers in Houston Ballet's Giselle. Maina Gielgud, the company's artistic associate, coached them in one of today's finest interpretations of the Romantic ballet, originally choreographed in 1841 and now performed by companies throughout the world.

So many classical ballets rely on pantomime and elaborate costumes to buoy the action, which can often distract from the dancing. Ms. Gielgud refrains from that, instead insisting that the dancers pull the story out from their souls until they become sophisticated actors tapping deeply into the human experience. Her coaching brought out a new level of artistry in the company.

The dancers responded beautifully on Saturday night, transforming the story of an innocent girl who falls in love, goes mad and dies into a timeless story that Houston Ballet is lucky to have in its repertoire. Leticia Oliveira as a young, carefree Giselle used her huge, expressive eyes and hummingbird-quick footwork to develop her character. Ms. Oliveira has long excelled as one of Houston Ballet's best technicians, but never before has she been so spellbinding to watch.

Zdenek Konvalina also danced convincingly as Albrecht so that when it came time for him to die of exhaustion in Act II, it looked like he might actually do so. His legs worked like a remarkable combination of steel and elastic, whipping off multiple turns and jumps, then collapsing to the floor like a lover whose spirit had been stolen. Throughout the ballet, the corps provided finely tuned support, with Kelly Myernick as a terrifying Myrtha.

In Stanton Welch's Maninyas, the other ballet on the program, the dancers interpreted love more abstractly to a gorgeous score by Australian composer Ross Edwards. Five couples moved back and forth from billowing curtains, and as they moved together and apart, their upturned hands dangled like sets of moving quotation marks. Love propelled them into these unusual postures, and when Barbara Bears rested atop Simon Ball's shoulders it looked – much like being in love – as if she would either fly or fall.

© 2005 The Dallas Morning News Co.