October 6, 2014 by

Thunderous applause ushered in Ballet Nebraska’s fifth season when the blood-red Orpheum curtain dropped on the company’s beautifully staged production of the hauntingly macabre Giselle.

The classic work first staged in 1841 was a perfectly spectral prelude to the Halloween season, and the ballet’s eerie second act sent shivers down this reviewer’s spine.

Erin Alarcón, in perhaps her meatiest role yet, soared as the naive, coquettish peasant girl swept of her feet by Albrecht, a Rhineland Duke (Matthew Carter) who is sowing his last wild oats before marriage to one of his high-placed peers. The omnipresent castle looming on a hill in the background was a constant reminder of the young nobleman’s caddish behavior, and it didn’t take long for local huntsman Hilarion (the electrifying Sasha York) to expose Albrecht’s ruse in a love triangle that had fatal consequences for the weak-hearted title character.

Erin Alarcón as Giselle
Featured Image: Matthew Carter (Hilarion) and Erin Alarcón

The first act was a vividly playful splash of frivolity saturated in bright hues, thanks in large part to Deborah Overturff’s vibrant costumes. It all played out like some Technicolor throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood—think The Adventures of Robin Hood or Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

The diminutive dancer was marvelous as the carefree peasant girl, but Alarcón really turned up the heat in the final scene of the first act when the Duke’s betrayal literally breaks the tender heart of the grief-stricken Giselle. Her finely acted, wild-eyed, hair-pulling anguish painted a disturbing scene, one that was no less harrowing than the very best renditions of the famously blood-soaked mad scene from the opera Lucia di Lammermoor.

The second act was the polar opposite of the first. Set in a darkly monochromatic, fog-shrouded forest that veritably drips with ominous foreboding, it was there that we were introduced to the veiled Queen of the Wilis (a splendid turn by Erika Overturff) and her gaggle of gossamer ghouls who possess the spirit of the now undead Giselle.

Fueled by Carter’s gravity-defying artistry, the tug of war between Albrecht and the Wilis sets the stage for some of the most ethereally stunning choreography delivered to date by the still-young company. Torn between allegiances to both her lover and her sisterhood of sylphs, Giselle and Albrecht must dance feverishly until dawn to break the spell so that she may finally rest in peace.

Joining Alarcón in demonstrating the power that great acting can have on a ballet was Judith Leppek. Her expressive take on the role of Giselle’s mother drove much of the narrative elements of the first act, and this fine actress can elevate to high art the seemingly throw-away machinations of a simple nod, grimace, or shrug.

Alarcón is now well on her way to establishing herself as one of the stars of Ballet Nebraska, but it was Vivi DiMarco that delivered a breakout performance on the Orpheum stage the other night. Her unforgettable solo in the first act had this reviewer wanting more from the young Chicago native who is in her third year with the company.

The only missteps involved a premature entrance (A Wili with a case of the willies?) and a minor wardrobe malfunction, a mere trifle involving a wayward tuft of tulle.

In this exquisite production of Giselle, the once fledgling Ballet Nebraska—the region’s only such outfit—entrenches itself as a thoroughly professional troupe capable of pulling off the sort of magic that one would normally expect only from more seasoned, bigger-budget touring companies.

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