By Bridgette M. Redman
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer
When there are world-class artists in an organization, giving them free rein can create works of stunning beauty and breathtaking sights.
The Pasadena Civic Ballet (PCB) hosts two artists-in-residence — prima ballerina Petra Conti and her husband, Eris Nezha, also a world-renowned dancer — who are producing a classic outdoors for two romantic nights.
Conti has been a principal dancer with La Scala Theatre Ballet in Milan, Boston Ballet and Los Angeles Ballet. She was a guest artist for ballet companies around the world from Verona to the Ukraine to Russia.
Nezha is an international principal dancer who was born in Albania and moved to Italy when he was 15 to pursue a ballet career. He was a principal dancer at La Scala Theatre Ballet and toured across Europe and Asia. He was also a principal dancer for the Boston Ballet and Los Angeles Ballet.
This spring, they approached the PCB artistic directors about putting on a ballet for which both are known, the challenging and intricate classic “Giselle.” The ballet’s titular character is a peasant who falls in love with a deceitful nobleman who breaks her heart, causing her to die. In the second half, angry spirits try to take revenge for her and she must choose between forgiveness or an eternity in pursuit of revenge.
“They had this idea to present a truncated version,” said Gina Baffo, marketing and outreach manager for PCB. “Because things were still opening up, they had this idea that they would do a condensed version under the stars.”
Ballet takes advantage of shadowy ambiance
Performances on June 12 and June 13 begin at 8 p.m. so that the first act — one filled with courting and light-hearted village scenes — takes place in natural, golden lighting at sunset. The second act, which is dark and filled with ghostly spirits, will take place after dark.
The ballet will be presented outdoors in the Gazebo Salon at Pasadena Civic Ballet. The intimate setting lets people experience this ballet in a far more intimate and close up setting than is typical with classical ballets.
Conti and Nezha will dance the principal roles, ones they have performed many times. Conti is renowned for her interpretation of the mad scene. The two guest artists have adapted the choreography of Yvette Chauviré to fit in the smaller space.
The artistic directors embraced the idea of the ballet, as “Giselle” is one of Conti’s signature roles, a coveted part among ballerinas.
“She performed it quite a bit in Europe,” Baffo said. “I think there is a personal love for her and Eris of this ballet.”
The two of them are working with the dancers in the company, passing on their talents and skills to the advanced pre-professional youth.
“It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be trained (by the artists) and for Petra and Eris to pass along their knowledge and expertise,” Baffo said. “That’s how ballet gets passed from generation to generation.”
Performance to fill the night with lilting strains of live music
Conti and Nezha reached out to another artist they knew, Maestro Daniel Suk, the artistic director and conductor of Dream Orchestra Los Angeles. Thirty members of the orchestra will perform the music live during the ballet.
Suk first became acquainted with Conti when he was in Italy and saw her perform. When she came to LA, he thought it would be an incredible opportunity to work with her.
Baffo said dancing to live accompaniment can be exhilarating because anything can happen.
“The most beautiful moment can happen and the most challenging moment can happen,” Baffo said. “That adds excitement to the performance.”
Some changes have been made to the classical ballet. It will be shorter than is traditional, only an hour and 15 minutes rather than the usual two-plus hours. The story line has been streamlined and Suk has condensed the score.
With the outdoor gazebo space, the footprint is smaller than the standard stage, which introduces alterations to the choreography.
The 25-person cast is being clothed in traditional period costumes. They will dance in front of a layered fabric collage that is flowing and billowy, designed to be fluid and visually represent the progression of distinctive moods between Act I and Act II.
The two-night production of the romantic ballet is offered up as a feast for those who have been hungering to experience the arts live.
“It is the Super Bowl of ballets,” Baffo said. “‘Giselle’ is one of the timeless classics. We know we can’t be in a theater right now, but we want to come and see a beautiful prima ballerina perform a show she is very well known for and do it in a manner that is community building.”
Baffo suspects the evening could be emotionally charged because of its beauty and the stirring, romantic music. The story is romantic, but also tragic. It reflects the gambit of emotions that many people have traversed since the start of the pandemic. It is, she said, something people don’t often get to experience.
“This idea of world-class performers performing essentially in our backyard is really an incredible opportunity,” Baffo said. “This is a salon setting. It is very up close and personal, which you don’t commonly get. When you see it in a theater, you’re set back and there is a lot of lighting, staging and theatrical production. This is up close and personal. That makes it a very different experience.”
“Giselle Under the Stars”
Pasadena Civic Ballet with Dream Orchestra
WHEN: 8 p.m. June 12 and 13
WHERE: Outdoor Gazebo Salon at Pasadena Civic Ballet,
253 N. Vinedo Avenue, Pasadena
COST: $45 to $75, optional cheese box