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Dance Reviews : 'Giselle' by the Dance Theatre of Harlem

February 09, 1988|LEWIS SEGAL

As anyone with an interest in ballet must know, the Dance Theatre of Harlem "Giselle" transfers the action of the Romantic masterwork from the Rhine Valley to a Louisiana bayou. But this 1984 production, which returned to Pasadena Civic Auditorium on Saturday, is important not merely as a black and/or an American "Giselle."

In both acts, the staging's specific environmental and emotional contexts defy the recent trend toward abstraction that has maimed other versions, and restore the work's original emphasis on expressive dancing.

Where even the most talented American Giselles at Ballet Theatre offer detached, half-hearted portrayals, Virginia Johnson of the Harlem company seems fully to inhabit the world of this ballet and to belong in it. Johnson's characterization capitalized on freshness, detail, conviction and a total absence of ballerina glamour. If only her movement quality in Act II was more distinctive . . .

As Albert, Eddie J. Shellman partnered conscientiously, soloed powerfully (except for smudged turning-jumps in the final variation) and delivered a persuasive portrayal of a thoughtless, callow youth ennobled by guilt and grief.

Lowell Smith made a commanding Hilarion, Lorraine Graves a lackluster Myrta. Judy Tyrus and Augustus Van Heerden effortfully executed the peasant pas de deux.

For a celebratory curtain-raiser, the bold and often daring Stephanie Dabney and the attentive, secure Donald Williams headed a highly accomplished minicorps in George Balanchine's neoclassic showpiece "Allegro Brillante" (music by Tchaikovsky). Leslie Dunner briskly conducted the undersized orchestra, with David LaMarche piano soloist in "Allegro Brillante."

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