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PNB Giselle with kids

James Kirby Rogers danced the role of the duke to Lesley Rausch's mesmerizing Giselle on PNB's opening night of "Giselle." Photos courtesy PNB.

Parent Review: 4 reasons to take your kid to PNB’s Giselle

Production offers powerful performances, stunning sets and lots of conversation starters

“The only ballet I’ve ever seen is The Nutcracker,” my 17-year-old friend Olivia Small recently told me. 

I wasn’t shocked; that’s true for a lot of kids I know. And it’s the reason I invited Olivia to join me for the opening night of “Giselle,” Pacific Northwest Ballet’s gorgeous production about young love, the consequences of lying and betrayal and, in the end, moving on from them. 

Visual wow factor
PNB Giselle with kids

Photos courtesy PNB.

The jaw-dropping started the moment the curtains were lifted revealing a simple German village setting nestled below the most stunning tree canopy I’ve ever seen on a stage. I don’t know about Olivia, but I might have missed some of the dancing as my eyes returned again and again to the fall-colored treetops. 

Reason number one to take kids: The artistry of this PNB set is wondrous and stiff competition  for even the best children’s picture books.

Reason number two: As with most PNB storybook productions, Giselle showcases the troupe’s incredible elegance, precision and athleticism. Principals James Kirby Rogers (the duke) and Lesley Rausch as Giselle are mesmerizing together and solo.

“The dancing was amazing,” Bailey Reich, age 9, reiterated my take on the show, deftly choreographed by Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa. Bailey and her mom Pam Reich sat behind Olivia and me during the show and I was curious how Giselle’s more adult themes of love, betrayal and death would land on someone her age.

“I loved the dancing, especially in parts where they looked like they got really dizzy spinning but they didn’t fall down,” Bailey said. “ But Giselle DIED! It’s just sad. I didn’t like that part.”

A teens take age recommendation

Olivia, a Tacoma high school junior, too was taken with the dancing but felt the story of Giselle might be lost on anyone prepubescent. She set her recommended age at 13 and up. While she found the first half intriguing, she was less enamored of the “more sorrowful” second act. 

“There’s so much going on in the second half, it became hard to pay attention to who was who. It felt kind of like two different shows,” she said. “I would have been really confused if I hadn’t read [the story synopsis].

Visual storytelling technique

Reason number three: Exposure to the use of mime-like signing to further the story.

Both girls found the use of dance sign language intriguing and helpful. If you go with kids, be sure to review the program, which includes illustrations of signing used in the show and what each sign means.

Story in a nutshell

Giselle is a basic story of love, loss, revenge and resolution – so no different from a lot of Disney films. 

Act I: Idyllic German village

A young peasant girl in a Germanic town, Giselle is seduced by Albrecht, a duke who disguises himself as a peasant. In the classist system of 1800s Europe in which the ballet is set, a union between a duke and peasant is, of course, verboten. Not to mention the duke is betrothed to someone in his own class. When Giselle discovers the lie, she dies of a broken heart. End Act 1.

“I thought the part where she dies was really good,” Olivia notes. “The timing of the orchestra with the reactions of the people and the dancing was perfect.”

PNB Giselle with kids

Photos courtesy PNB.

Act II: A less-than-idyllic graveyard

In Act II, we find ourselves in a graveyard under a moony sky – again, the beauty of these sets can’t be overstated. Fog rolls across the land in a moody blue-white before a group of Wilis,  dead women scorned before their wedding days and doomed to walk the nights of eternity seeking revenge, take the stage. The Wilis come out at night but must return to the grave at dawn. Giselle is initiated into the group, whose queen seeks her revenge by dancing men to death. Her first victim is the gameskeeper who tipped off  Giselle about the duke’s betrayal. When the later duke appears in the forest, the Wili queen attempts to dance him to his death as well, but Giselle steps in and keeps him going until daybreak when the Wilis disappear. Before going with them, Giselle blesses the duke’s intended marriage to his betrothed. The show ends as the duke heads off to his nuptials and Giselle heads out into her eternity of disembodied sorrow.

If it were up to me . . .

Bailey, for one, was having none of that ending: “No, no, no to that part of the story. First Giselle dies and then he ends up marrying the one he’s actually engaged to. If it were up to me, I’d change that so Giselle comes back, he disengages with the other lady and Giselle is happy in the end.”

Following the show, Pam Reich said that seeing Giselle is a great opportunity explore some interesting topics with kids. Such as: why would women in that time need to be married to be happy as the show suggests? What if women didn’t want to marry men? Why aren’t unmarried men in the show doomed? What if a woman prefers to marry a woman? A man a man? So many good questions could be formed from this one piece of dance art.

“They could have modernized it – especially the idea that women who don’t get married die broken-hearted. That was a little weird,” said Pam. “I think it’s an interesting discussion and it opens up more conversations about other things.

“It’s also just this beautiful art form,” she added.

What it takes to dance Giselle

Which brings me to reason number four for seeing Giselle (or just about an PNB production): If you have any kids in your family who are into sports, athleticism or exertion, ballet is a great way to view the fruits of athletic commitment in the extreme. We loved the fact sheet inserted into our program, which let us know that dancers are more fit than most professional athletes. The amount of energy it takes to dance a role like Giselle is the same it would take to run 18 miles or play two whole football games. If that isn’t inspiration for a budding athlete, I don’t know what is.

A parent’s take on age recommendation

My parents’ take on Giselle? Older kids will largely understand the tale unfolding onstage with or without reading the program. Kids younger than Bailey might struggle with the storyline, but will be enraptured by the color, flow and beauty of the show. There were plenty of sub-9-year-olds in the audience on opening night (mostly girls).

And, I agree with Redmond mom Pam Reich. This production begs for post-show conversation with kids on numerous social levels. If getting into those conversations feels daunting, what better excuse than the discussion of a fabulous ballet? To gain more fodder for those post-show dialogues, take advantage (and take kids to) a pre-show discussion of the ballet in Nesholm Family Lecture Hall at McCaw Hall. “Gisellehistorian Doug Fullington will lead a 30-minute introduction before each performance, including  discussions of choreography, music, history, design and the process of bringing ballet to the stage. This free discussion takes place one hour before performances. 

Indeed it is . . .

As for Olivia’s Nutcracker-limited exposure to ballet, my goal in taking her was well met:

“There’s definitely a lot more to ballet than The Nutcracker,” she told me.

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Tickets to Giselle run $37 – $195. The show will run for eight performances at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall at Seattle Center: 
  • February 4,2 and 7:30 p.m.
  • February 9 & 10, 7:30 p.m. 
  • February 11, 2 and 7:30 p.m. 
  • February 12, 1 p.m. 
It will stream digitally February 16 – 20 atPNB.org 

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More at Seattle’s Child:

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About the Author

Cheryl Murfin

Cheryl Murfin is managing editor at Seattle's Child. She is also a certified doula, lactation educator for NestingInstinctsSeattle.com and a certified AWA writing workshop facilitator at Compasswriters.com.