Gotta love that new theater smell.

On Friday night, Northrop at the University of Minnesota celebrated it’s reopening with a gala performance of “Giselle” by New York’s American Ballet Theatre. And while principal dancer Paloma Herrera shone in the title role, the big star of the evening was the space itself, one perfectly suited for a large-scale ballet with a live orchestra under the baton of an energetic Ormsby Wilkins. Bravo to HGA Architects and Engineers.

While the plot of “Giselle” is a bit of a downer (young woman dies of a broken heart, joins a vengeful pack of spirits called the wilis), the ballet itself as staged by ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie with choreography after Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa, shows off the capabilities of the new facility as a venue for dance. Created in 1841, it is the oldest continually performed ballet and includes several demanding corps sections. ABT did not disappoint with its interpretation.

Herrera’s Friday performance was infused with delicate beauty and her supple feet guided her across the floor expertly while sometimes barely seeming to touch it.

Jared Matthews, as the morally torn Count Albrecht, was a bit muted at first but as he danced for his life (literally) among the wilis his performance became emotionally expansive.

Sascha Radetsky’s take on the spurned Hilarion, who couldn’t compete with Albrecht for Giselle’s attentions, burned with dynamic angst.

Veronika Part, as wili queen Myrta, served up exquisite villainess shade, with subtle hints of humor that contrasted nicely with the sharper aspects of her role. And the 18 wilis danced their gorgeous, yet menacing, parts with exacting attention to spacing and pattern, which played out particularly well when viewed from the perspective of a balcony seat.

The percussive sounds of their pointe shoes added to the drama as the dancers fluttered across the stage or kept their balance through slow hopping arabesques.

After the final curtain call members of the University of Minnesota marching band burst in, filling the main aisle with a final festive fanfare for the evening. Here’s guessing it’s the first time an ABT performance was followed by a shimmying Goldy Gopher.

Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside will assume the lead roles on Saturday evening while the Sunday matinee features Hee Seo and Alexandre Hammoudi.

 

Caroline Palmer writes about dance.