Like any good production of a classic, the Dance Theatre of Harlem's "Giselle" can shelter several interpretations. Rather than emphasizing the delicacy of the ballet's heroine, Stephanie Dabney, who danced the title role yesterday afternoon at the Kennedy Center Opera House, took the untraditional approach of being spirited, naive and very young -- a spoiled, homecoming princess who'd always had things go her way.
Dabney, known for her sharp and brilliant dancing, gave as much thought to the dance aspects of "Giselle" as to the dramatic ones. She softened her dancing without blurring it, keeping its shape and scale grand while remaining light. This gave the effect, particularly in the second act, of an external fragility steeled by an inner strength. Giselle is not merely a betrayed girl who becomes a sort of outlaw saint; she's a villager who loves to dance, and Dabney never forgot that, delighting in the second act's difficult choreography.
Her Albert, Donald Williams, was an attentive partner and, with his easy and fluid dancing style performed his solos well, but was dramatically bland. Self-absorption is an intellectually defensible interpretation of this role, but it precludes passion.
The bayou graveyard haunted by wispy-gowned Wilis is the glory of DTH's production. Lorraine Graves' opening bourre'es, which make her appear to be blown across the stage by an evil wind, were as wonderful as the mounting impatience when her orders were circumvented.
There's a very different graveyard in Geoffrey Holder's "Banda," which takes place in an unspecified voodooland. It's a simple story: a young mother cannot bring herself to leave the cemetery after burying her child, and is persuaded by the Baron Samedi, a powerful Voudoun god, to commit suicide.
As the Baron on Saturday afternoon, Cubie Burke slithered and shook with an earthiness bordering on the lewd, exuding a palpable malevolence. Burke danced a creature delighting in his own powers, relishing evil -- a Puck who took a wrong turn -- and transformed what is often merely a fascinating costume show into a drama of shattering impact.