Amid a repertoire that is heavily 20th and 21st century, Miami City Ballet pulls itself back to a classic each season to show it has the same goods the iconic companies of the Western World boast.
Some years the result is admirable. This year it was stunning.
In Wednesday night's performance, Jeanette Delgado and Renato Penteado showed the power and drama to evoke fresh tears at one of the oldest tales in classical repertoire. It was both breathtaking and painful to watch Delgado dissolve into madness — pirouetting dramatically from character to character and, finally, to her death — in Act 1. In similar fashion, Penteado creates a double urgency in Albrecht's dance to near-death, staying upright until dawn to defeat the spirit queen's edict and to be with his late beloved for a few minutes more.
"Giselle" works on two levels: sheer technical virtuosity that sets it apart from other ballets, and a convincing dramatic tale of what we do for love. Its main characters must succeed doubly to pull in the viewer. Delgado is amazing at both. She makes hopping en pointe — on one foot, a well-nigh impossible feat — look like the natural joy of a young girl in love. And her mad scene is a gift of thorns: She reprises her difficult turns in slow motion, dazed and heartbroken, without sending it over the brink into caricature. It's wrenching for the audience as well as Giselle.
Although Penteado comes across as nearly too likeable to be the oblivious son of a duke in the first scenes, it may be his dance speaking to us: airborne in his leaps and precision in his partnership with Delgado. Their early pas de deux are master classes for anyone who aspires to the roles.
Actually there's not an easy character in this ballet. Queen Myrthe, a coolly capable Christie Sciturro, must show her virtuosity over her fellow Wilis in frozen beauty. Hilerion, Giselle's would-be suitor, keeps losing the girl, even after she's dead; he was created so convincingly and passionately Wednesday by Reyneris Reyes, we'd change the story just to keep him alive. (Not to worry, he did get to live just the night before, when he played his rival, Albrecht.)
The villagers themselves, celebrating the wine festival, wind themselves like embroidery through patterns of dance, leaping and hopping — on one foot, of course — around the stage. And the Wilis, those virginal spirits who hunt down and kill unwary young men, must execute their famous entry in arabesques that turn their backs into one long, straight, white tulle curtain. It's a charmingly deadly scene.
On Wednesday night, Sara Esty beamed through footwork that would fell a lesser ballerina as the first act's village entertainment, and Renan Ceidero, while not quite as polished, still pulls off a slew of rapid turns and leaps to land on one knee.
The set, from American Ballet Theatre, is lush and defined; the costumes, from Les Grande Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, are piquantly colorful: The duke and his court are nearly works of art.
Finally, this audience has no end of good fortune with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra in the pit. The horn calls for the hunting parties were strong, clear and vibrant, violin solos tender and its rapid-fire flute trills like lightning. Conductor Gary Sheldon could have held off at several stopping points in the music to allow the performers the applause they richly deserved, but musically it was strong yet supple, a key partner in this production.
So why did people in this audience think they should be able to talk during the overtures as if we're still at cocktail hour? And why were some people literally scurrying to the door, like Beelzebub from a Christmas service, as the performance ended? Nearly three rows in front of us cleared out before the second bows were taken.
Miami City Ballet created a production Wednesday worth immortalizing; this company sells out its Paris performances; and smarter dance heads than this one lavish praise on its style and virtuosity. Yet in sequences that others would applaud all the way through, this crowd was mute.
Charging out the door without giving them the respect and recognition they deserved was the worst, however. We really thought our dance audiences understood that.
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers classical music, opera and dance for the Naples Daily News.