Paris Opera Ballet | Dance review

Photograph: S�bastien Math�

Giselle was something special, even before the Paris Opera Ballet took the stage last night. The Harris Theater spent a healthy amount of time and money to prepare for the company’s weeklong engagement now through Sunday at the Harris, and the mayor made an appearance at the opening gala to reiterate what we already knew: Chicago is doing great things in the world of dance. “A city of firsts,” Mayor Emanuel said. But the ceremonial hoopla took hold only momentarily before the curtain rose, and the audience found itself delightfully transported to a bygone world of peasants, royalty and bourgeois pageantry.

The ballet masterpiece, which made its debut at the Royal Academy of Music in 1841, is one of the quintessential works of classical ballet repertoire. The dancers of Paris Opera execute with phenomenal precision, but they are certainly not without flaws. An occasional pirouette is blemished by a slightly off-kilter pointe, for instance, which is not uncommon for dancers adjusting to a stage that isn't their own. Otherwise, their legs, feet, technique—everything meshes together. The corps de ballet adds so much verve to their petite allegro that it takes control of the senses with every pitter-patter of pointe shoes. Principal dancers Isabelle Ciaravola (Giselle), Mathieu Ganio (Albrecht) and Marie Agnes Gillot (Myrtha) dazzle with their technical and anatomical gifts. Their jumps are high, and their jetés are sharp. Gillot is especially captivating as Myrtha with long lines and a steady balance that emphasize the point of the second act: She’s in charge. The ballet is wonderfully abetted by live musical accompaniment from the Grant Park Orchestra.

Though the first act establishes more character and storyline than it does the nuance of the dancers’ supreme technique, the inevitable tension of the story encourages viewers along the journey, as if it’s only a matter of time before something incredible happens. And then it does. The second act mesmerizes, as the dancers give the audience what it’s been waiting for: tour jetés, pirouettes and a fantastical pas de duex that suddenly flips a switch onto reality. The reality, in this case, is the fact that the Paris Opera Ballet is performing in Chicago, where the full company has never before performed. In a way, this little fact somehow has more impact than the performance itself. As the audience hoots and hollers, rightfully so, the cheers seem to come from a place of pride as much as a place of admiration.

The feeling isn’t tangible, but it’s something both parties happily share. The dancers perform in front of an audience that loves them, even before taking the stage, and they reciprocate by giving us a piece of their history and their spirit, acting as an acknowledgment—that Chicago is an international dance city, moving beyond ordinary, with no signs of slowing down.

The Paris Opera Ballet performs Giselle Wednesday 27 and Thursday 28 at 7:30pm at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park. The Wednesday show will be screened via simulcast in the Pritzker Pavilion.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)