Show and Tell: Pacific Northwest Ballet's 'Giselle'

Love, life, tragedy and exquisite dance

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Seth Orza as Albrecht and Lesley Rausch as Giselle, Photo © Angela Sterling.

Bottom line

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Giselle is a spectacular treat for all the senses. As the curtains rise, revealing the extraordinary hand-painted scenery that gradually merges into eloquent sets, the audience is instantly drawn into a dramatic story of love, life, tragedy and above all — exquisite dance.

Photo © Angela Sterling


Performed in two acts, PNB artistic director Peter Boal’s staging is based in part on primary sources from Paris and St. Petersburg and attempts to be faithful to the earliest renditions of the 19th century. For this year’s production Boal has commissioned Jerome Kaplan (Roméo et Juliette, Don Quixote) to design new scenery and costumes that remain true to the mood of the two acts and the era.

Giselle, regarded as the masterpiece of the Romantic era, is the story of a beautiful peasant girl wooed by a duke, Albrecht (Seth Orza), disguised as a peasant. When Hilarion, the gamekeeper who also pursues Giselle (Lesley Rausch, in Saturday’s matinee), reveals the duke’s identity and real betrothal to a noblewoman Bathilde, Giselle goes mad and dies of a broken heart. The powerful concluding scene of the first act brings us close to Giselle’s fragile and emotional side.  The musical score complements the emotions of the dancers like a dream.

In Act II, she rises again as a Wili, a member of the ghostly sisterhood of maidens doomed to haunt the night in their bridal gowns and attack any men who enter their territory by drowning them or forcing them to dance to their death. In a miraculous display of love beyond the grave, Giselle saves her betrothed from certain death at the hands of the Wilis. The dance sequences of the Wilis, the desperate dance of the frightened Hilarion, and Giselle and Albrecht’s duet are truly moving.

Boal’s Giselle has a strong, independent personality through the ballet, particularly evident as she stands up to her mother in Act I and later to Myrtha, the queen of Wilis, in Act II.

It was amazing to note the audiences’ reaction to the plight of performers. The laughs, the sighs and the gasps were testament to the quality of the production.

Parents should know

The ballet is two hours and 15 minutes long and includes an intermission, which can be long for little ones.

Also, though there is no age restriction on viewership, given the nature of the plot, children ages 7 and up may be better suited to the production. (There is one intense scene with a sword where Giselle considers suicide.)

Kid quotes

“Giselle should have listened to her mother and not danced so much.”

“It looks as if the ballerinas are floating in air.”

 Parent tips

- Complimentary booster seats are available at the rear of the Kreielsheimer Promenade (main entrance level) on a first-come, first-served basis. Binoculars can be rented at $5.

- Consider sharing the synopsis of the story ahead of time with the kids so they can better understand the flow of the performance.

- The program comes with a mime guide to help audience interpret the gestures used by the performers at crucial points in the ballet. It is also available online and could be fun to share with kids before the show.

- If your child has difficulty watching quietly, you can view the performance on monitors in the McCaw Hall Lobby.

- To avoid long lines, consider placing snack orders in advance, before the performance begins. You can pick your snacks without having to wait at intermission.

- If you’re accompanying curious little artists, consider attending the post-performance Q&A with Artistic Director Peter Boal and PNB dancers.

- The Mercer Garage is conveniently located across the street from Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. Parking rates range from $5–$15 depending on events at Seattle Center.

If you go ...

Where and When: Giselle will be performed at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall at the Seattle Center through June 8: June 5–8 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2 p.m., Sunday at 1 p.m.

Tickets: Single tickets start at $28 and may be purchased by calling the PNB Box Office at 206-441-2424 or online.


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