By Bridgette M. Redman
Contributing editor of the weekly Pasadena
When there are world-class artists in an organization, giving them carte blanche can create stunningly beautiful works and breathtaking views.
The Pasadena Civic Ballet (PCB) hosts two artist-in-residence – principal dancer Petra Conti and her husband, Eris Nezha, also a world-renowned dancer – who produce an open-air classic for two romantic nights.
Conti has been a principal dancer with La Scala Theater Ballet in Milan, Boston Ballet and Los Angeles Ballet. She has been a guest artist for ballet companies around the world, from Verona to Ukraine to Russia.
Nezha is an international prima dancer born in Albania and moved to Italy at the age of 15 to pursue a career in ballet. He was principal dancer at the La Scala Theater Ballet and has toured across Europe and Asia. He has also been a principal dancer for the Boston Ballet and the Los Angeles Ballet.
This spring, they approached the artistic directors of PCB to put on a ballet for which the two are known, the difficult and complex classic “Giselle”. The main character of the ballet is a peasant girl who falls in love with a noble deceiver who breaks her heart and kills her. In the second half, angry spirits seek revenge on her, and she must choose between forgiveness or an eternity seeking revenge.
“They had this idea to present a truncated version,” said Gina Baffo, Marketing and Outreach Manager for PCB. “Because things were still opening, they had this idea that they would do a condensed version under the stars.”
The ballet enjoys a dark atmosphere
Performances on June 12 and 13 begin at 8 p.m., so the first act, filled with cheerful courtyard and village scenes, takes place in natural, golden lighting as the sun sets. The second act, which is dark and filled with ghostly spirits, will take place after dark.
The ballet will be performed outdoors in the Gazebo Lounge at Pasadena Civic Ballet. The intimate setting allows people to experience this ballet in a much more intimate and close setting than what is typical of classical ballets.
Conti and Nezha will dance the main roles, the ones they have performed on several occasions. Conti is renowned for his interpretation of the crazy scene. The two guest artists have adapted Yvette Chauviré’s choreography to suit the reduced space.
Artistic directors embraced the idea of ballet because “Giselle” is one of Conti’s iconic roles, a coveted role among ballerinas.
“She played it a lot in Europe,” Baffo said. “I think there is a personal love for her and Eris from this ballet.”
Both work with the company’s dancers, imparting their talents and skills to advanced pre-professional young people.
“It is a once in a lifetime experience to be trained (by the artists) and for Petra and Eris to pass on their knowledge and expertise,” said Baffo. “This is how ballet is passed down from generation to generation.
Performance to fill the night with singing melodies of live music
Conti and Nezha contacted another artist they knew, Maestro Daniel Suk, artistic director and conductor of the Dream Orchestra Los Angeles. Thirty members of the orchestra will perform live music during the ballet.
Suk first met Conti when he was in Italy and saw her perform. When she arrived in LA he thought it would be an amazing opportunity to work with her.
Baffo said dancing to a live accompaniment can be exhilarating because anything can happen.
“The best time can come and the most difficult time can come,” said Baffo. “It adds excitement to the performance.”
Some modifications have been made to classical ballet. It will be shorter than usual, only an hour and 15 minutes instead of the usual two hours and more. The script was streamlined, and Suk condensed the score.
With the outdoor gazebo space, the footprint is smaller than the standard stage, which introduces changes in the choreography.
The cast of 25 is dressed in traditional period costumes. They will dance past a layered fabric collage that is flowing and wavy, 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 as a feast for those thirsty to experience the arts live.
“It’s the Ballet Super Bowl,” 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 ballerina perform a show she’s very well known for and do it in a way that builds community.
Baffo suspects the evening could be emotionally charged due to her beauty and the romantic, upbeat music. The story is romantic, but also tragic. It reflects the emotional gamble that many people have gone through since the start of the pandemic. It is, she said, something that people do not often have the opportunity to experience.
“This idea of world-class artists performing primarily in our backyard is truly an incredible opportunity,” said Baffo. “It’s a living room decor. It’s very close and personal, which you usually don’t get. When you see it in a theater you are set back and there is a lot of lighting, directing and theatrical production. It’s up close and personal. It makes for a very different experience.
“Giselle under the stars”
Pasadena Civic Ballet with Dream Orchestra
WHEN: 8 p.m. on June 12 and 13
O: Outdoor gazebo lounge at Pasadena Civic Ballet,
253 avenue N. Vinedo, Pasadena
COT: $ 45 to $ 75, box of cheese optional