It’s difficult to know what to make of the new Joffrey “Giselle, ” the company’s first in its long history, that was unveiled last week at the Auditorium Theatre. Coming as it does at a time of great transition for the company where co-founder Gerald Alpino is stepping down and new artistic director Ashley Wheater is stepping in, what does it say that this most traditional of all ballets—indeed, the work that is the very precursor to classical ballet as we know it—is being presented in the most traditional manner possible at the beginning of a new era in the Joffrey saga? If you are expecting a rethinking of a classic along the lines of the company’s brilliant and innovative “Nutcracker,” clearly you won’t find it here. What you will find is a staging and sets that could have passed for state-of-the-art decades ago, a “retro” Giselle,” if you will, that makes no attempt whatsoever to take advantage of twenty-first-century stagecraft. Even the sets are borrowed from another company, and the choreographer, 93-year old British choreographer Frederic Franklin, is basing his ideas, we are told, from a Russian version from the 1930s. The dancing is spectacular, to be sure, but derivative, and the gliding “wilis” or ghosts of maidens left jilted on their wedding days, are always a treat. What is missing is the “Joffrey” touch, a stamp that says, “this is ours, this is special,” which is something we have come to expect from this company. If this were a touring production from another company, we would be satisfied. But Joffrey has set the bar higher, and as such, it falls short on the company’s own terms. (Dennis Polkow)
At the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, (312)902-1500. This production is now closed.