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PNB ends season with a splendid Giselle

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Pacific Northwest Ballet wraps up its 2013/14 season this weekend with "Giselle" and a passionate good-bye to principal dancer Kaori Nakamura.

Nakamura’s retirement comes after several triumphant performances this season, not the least being the title role in “Giselle.” But as wonderful as she is (and to see Nakamura dancing this month is to lament “oh, she can’t retire yet!”), a ballet is not one dancer. Nor even a company of them.

This “Giselle” is teamwork in all the very best sense of the word. It started with artistic director Peter Boal’s willingness to let a pair of true ballet nerds, Doug Fullington and Marian Smith, reconstruct how “Giselle” was originally danced. Then Boal staged their meticulous research in a way that made this ghostly story exciting even for those who don’t know or care much about mid-19th century ballet style.

This year’s addition of new sets and costumes by Jerome Kaplan just added to the fun. Both evoke the country village and the spooky-in-the-woods graveyard with historical charm and a nice touch of whimsy. It seems as if a Victorian picturebook or a Pollock’s Toy Theatre suddenly popped into life on the McCaw Hall stage. Randall G. Chiarelli’s evocative lighting design makes the most of the woody set, evoking moonlight and hauntings in the final act.

Of course, Adolphe Adam’s score receives a lovely symphonic workout by Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, led on opening night by conductor Emil de Cou.

With all that marvelous support backstage and in the pit, the PNB dancers bring a “fantastic ballet in two-acts” to life.

On opening night, Giselle’s happy country village was filled with peasant waltzes and nifty pas de deux work by Leta Biasucci and Jonathan Porretta. Carrie Imler crossed the stage en pointe with absolute control and menace, creating a Queen of the Wilis to be feared. Which, of course, made Nakamura’s defiant Giselle seem very brave as she outdances all the Wilis to save her faithless Albrecht. Jerome Tisserand’s interpretation of Albrecht turned the playboy duke into a heartbreaker, although one wondered if his aristocratic fiancée, regally portrayed by Sarah Richard Orza, was tempted to give him a bit of kick when she discovered him collapsed on Giselle’s tomb.

Batkhurel Bold and William Lin-Yee also provided much drama and a few laughs as the tattletale Hilarion and the squire Wilfride, respectively.

However, the real glory of this "Giselle" is the sum of its leading ladies and men; the corps so gracefully filling the stage as peasants, hunters, ladies, lords, and those veiled girls of ghostly vengeance known as Wilis; the many stage and musician union members supporting each performance; and those at PNB who have worked for so many months and even years to make this production happen. They put the “fantastic” into this fantasy of love and redemption, and proved why “Giselle” has remained one of ballet’s favorite ghost stories since 1841.

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PNB’s “Giselle” continues through June 8 at McCaw Hall. A season encore performance celebrating the career of Kaori Nakamura with live performances of highlights from the company’s 41st season takes place at 6:30 p.m. on June 8 at McCaw Hall. More information is available at the company’s website.

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