The Russian National Ballet Theatre made its fifth appearance with the Harriman-Jewell Series, performing Sunday afternoon in the Kauffman Theatre at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The troupe presented the repertory favorite “Giselle” in traditional balletic form with music by Adolphe Adam and choreography by Marius Petipa.
There were some engaging moments and a charismatic ballerina, but also a nagging attitude of tradition for tradition’s sake with a shopworn sense to the touring production, which was evident in the details.
The story, told with copious pantomime, has a disguised count woo a peasant girl. When she realizes he’s betrothed to another, she dies brokenhearted. At her grave, the Wilis (souls of jilted brides who dance men to their deaths) gather to incorporate Giselle into their sisterhood. She, however, still in love, protects the count.
The pantomime was effective overall, especially from the Forester, who did the most effective acting with the choreographed gestures in an impassioned performance.
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The saving grace of this production, as in the story, was Giselle. (The principal dancers were announced before the performance began, but there was no cast listing for the troupe in print or otherwise to verify name spellings.)
The performer was delicate and energetic, with beautiful lyricism. More petite than the rest of the dancers, she nevertheless had a presence that was captivating, especially in her mad scene at the end of Act 1. Her solo during the pas de deux was controlled, yet her attitude fittingly elusive, and she consistently projected innocence and grace.
The count was a smooth operator, in character and movement. He filled the stage during his leaps. A stern Myrthe had a seamless, ethereal entrance. The Wilis whirled ominously around their frenzied victims.
While the production was serviceable, its difficulties began with the poorly recorded orchestral score that did little to honor Adam’s thrilling music, with shrill, ear-splitting flute and audible sounds of pages turning and other extraneous noises.
The costume design was attributed to artistic director Elena Radchenko. The peasants’ clothes were a whirl of pastels and the Wilis’ simple, white and elegant, but the nobles’ get up was ridiculously opulent, the contrast overbearing.
A challenge with this sort of presentation is whether traditional elements appear imperative, not rote. A core aspect to classical ballet is an impeccable ensemble and that was not the case here, with noticeable imperfections. Had the dancing been flawless, it may have overcome the other inadequacies of the production.