Mining the Past: A New Giselle, a Restaged Robert Wilson Ballet, and Charles Reinhart

by Rachel Straus

Finding clues to a lost dance resembles detective work. If you’re the Sherlock Holmes type, dance reconstructions can become obsessively fascinating. On January 9 and 10, the Guggenheim Museum’s popular Works + Process series hosted Pacific Northwest Ballet—Giselle Revisited.

Under the artistic directorship of former New York City Ballet principal Peter Boal, PNB is undertaking a 170-year reconstruction of the French ballet. At the Guggenheim, Boal—alongside dance scholars Doug Fullington and Marian Smith—offered the sold-out crowd a Giselle history-mystery lesson, some mesmerizing mime, and bits of glorious dancing performed by Carrie Imler, Carla Körbes, James Moore, and Seth Orza.

PNB is reconstructing the ballet from a rare 1860s score once used by the ballet’s composer Adolphe Adam. The score includes note-for-note annotations of the mime and dancing. When Giselle scholar Smith got her hands on this score, recently purchased by a Cologne archive, she bent Boal’s ear. His patrons partially funded the reconstruction. PNB’s new-old Giselle will premiere this June in Seattle: Pacific Northwest Ballet Giselle Performances

The best part of the January 10 lecture-demonstration was when the dancers mimed the passages while Smith read descriptions of their action from the score. Given greater understanding of how the narrative details coincide with the musical passages, the dancers mimed with a purpose usually reserved for the ballet’s pure dancing scenes. When James Moore (Hilarion) expressed his concern that Carla Körbes (Giselle) had fallen for a two-faced cad (Loys/Albrecht), his body and face transformed. Moore’s miming is unaffected and intense. In these gestural moments, he stole the show.

What was less convincing was Doug Fullington’s part of the presentation, where he discussed this reconstruction’s use of Stepanov notation. Unlike music scores, notations rarely give the full scope of the choreography. Nicholas Sergeyev, who recorded Russian Imperial Ballet dances from the late 19th and early 20th century, used Stepanov notation. When Sergeyev fled Russia after the 1917 Revolution, he took his Stepanov notation scores (including Giselle) with him.  The Royal Ballet, previously called Sadler’s Wells, became the recipient of Sergeyev’s knowledge.

But here’s the rub. There is much documentation (from RB founder Dame Ninette de Valois and others) about how Sergeyev’s notation and memory possessed major holes.

In light of this information, it was odd that Fullington presented the Stepanov score as something relatively concrete. Boal was more candid. He told the audience that due to the gaps in their reconstruction, they were looking at Giselle productions by the Paris Opera Ballet and others for inspiration.

The evening ended with Act II’s grand pas de deux, a major artistic and technical endeavor for any ballerina. If this Works + Process in any indication, Carla Körbes is going to rise to the occasion in the female lead. From every pore of Körbes’s dancing body radiated the desire to make this Giselle matter.


Another unearthing from Terpsichore’s past came care of the Martha Graham Dance Company. The 85-year-old troupe is reviving Robert Wilson’s 1995 Snow on the Mesa. The commissioned work—made fours years after Graham’s death and in homage of her life and art—will open the company’s New York season (March 15-20) at the Rose Theater. New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff described Snow on the Mesa as “a must see, with the marvelous Graham company projecting drama to the hilt.” (New York Times 1995 review)

On January 11, two sections of Mesa were performed for an invited group at the company’s cramped Upper East Side headquarters. Wilson, whose only attempt at modern dance making is Mesa, references some of Graham’s enduring interests: developing imperiously sexual female characters, costuming her men in loin cloths, and using set designs (particularly Noguchi’s) as landscapes to depict the subconscious and the forbidden.

Mesa appears to be a lovingly rendered homage. It doesn’t, however, white wash Graham’s leviathan personality, which dominated the stage through her choreography for her heroines (whose roles she initially performed). When dancer Xiaochuan Xie (as Graham) sauntered across a set of low white benches, they became a catwalk, a fitting platform to taunt her male consort, Ben Schultz (as Erick Hawkins).

At the Rose Theater in March, the company will offer four different programs, seven Graham works and a world premiere by Bulareyaung Pagarlava. In the last decade, the troupe underwent a trial by fire (see New York Times coverage of legal battle). In this decade the Martha Graham Company will hopefully be able to focus on their repertory treasure and future.


Last week included a third spectacle devoted to looking back. On January 14 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, several hundred sat in celebration of the American Dance Festival director Charles Reinhart. Reinhart’s children largely organized his 80th birthday event, which also served as a goodbye ceremony. Reinhart will retire from his 41-year-old post soon. His second-in-command Jodee Nimerichter will take over the reigns of the summer festival, located at Duke University in North Carolina.

Because Reinhart is a dance man, the assumption was that dance performance would be the main event at his celebration.

Though there were performances by Pilobolus, Eiko & Koma, Shen Wei, and Paul Taylor Dance Company, dance was only part of the proceedings. A film about Reinhart, made by his daughter Ariane, started the evening. It was quaint. It was a home movie. In picture after picture, natty Reinhart is captured posing for the camera, with a bravura associated with the modern dance choreographers he championed.

Following the movie, Master of Ceremonies Mark Dendy took center stage. A choreographer known to play the bad boy, Dendy was dressed as Martha Graham (in a gold lame gown). While the movie presented Reinhart as something of a dance prince, Dendy’s snarky remark— “Charles has influenced all the artists of the world”—created a hushed stillness in the theater.

The evening ricocheted between the intimate (Reinhart’s friends and family spoke) and the professional (companies performed, Anna Kisselgoff lectured). Reinhart’s kids are clearly not veteran presenters. Perhaps they should have left the show’s programming up to dad.






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