PNB’s ‘Giselle’ hits all the high notes of tragedy and romance

  • Written by Deborah Stone

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Kaori Nakamura as Giselle, and Lucien Postlewaite as Albrecht, in PNB's world premiere staging of Giselle. Photo © Angela Sterling
“Giselle” captivated audiences in Paris when it premiered in 1841. A lush score, exquisite choreography and a tragic love story gave it all the ingredients for success, and it went on to become one of ballet’s greatest classics. But, although it has had many restagings and revivals over the years, the famed historical ballet has never been in PNB’s repertory.

Not until now. Peter Boal, PNB’s artistic director, who has long wanted to bring the ballet to Seattle audiences, was initially unsure of how to incorporate “Giselle” into the company’s repertoire. As he states in his program note, “I looked at impressive contemporary productions and time-honored traditional ones, never finding one that was right for us. I wanted to do more than recreate another company’s production and I didn’t want to choreograph one myself.” Boal’s solution was to reconstruct the ballet’s earliest Parisian choreography through the use of several 19th-century sources.

With the help of PNB’s assistant artistic director and dance historian Doug Fullington, along with University of Oregon scholar and historical adviser Marian Smith, “Giselle” has been given a new life. In this never-been-seen interpretation, Giselle’s character is spunkier, with a mind of her own, which makes it even more startling when she loses it upon finding out that her lover (who has been disguised as a peasant) is actually a duke betrothed to another. Additionally, a number of comic scenes with villagers have been restored to the ballet, which serves to provide welcome elements of humor and break up the dark nature of the narrative.

PNB’s staging also incorporates several elaborate mime sequences, which were an integral part of the original production and used as storytelling devices. In this timeless and moving tale, Giselle, a young, innocent peasant girl, falls for a philandering prince named Albrecht. When she learns of his deception, she goes mad and succumbs to an early death of a broken heart. She comes back as a Wili, a member of a sisterhood of spirits, all would-be-brides doomed to dance men to death in the forest at night. When her lover appears, she defies her supernatural orders and saves him from his cruel fate.

PNB’s production includes all the requisite dramatic elements of this fabled tragedy and brings it to life with stunning results. The dancing is top-notch, with breathtaking performances by Kaori Nakamura in the lead role and Lucien Postlewaite as the Duke. Nakamura enchants as first a flirty, carefree young girl who would rather dance and make merry than dutifully help harvest the grapes. Later, she emerges, rising from her grave wrapped in a shroud. Transformed into a Wili, she becomes an ethereal apparition and appears to almost float on air with a quiet, wispy grace. In her inhuman form, she seems remote, yet she still manages to convey emotion. One senses her sadness and the undying love she holds for the Duke despite his betrayal.

Postlewaite makes a handsome, virile Duke with a boyish air. He has a charming stage presence and wows the audience with his magnificent jumps and the deeply personal interpretation he brings to the role. Also of special note are Jeffrey Stanton as Hilarion, the love-spurned gamekeeper, and Maria Chapman as Myrtha, the powerful and menacing Queen of the Wilis.

And the Wilis, those eerie specters in white, are to be equally commended. Dancing with pinpoint technical precision, they create a haunting image that lasts long after the final curtain call. In PNB’s capable hands (and feet!), this uniquely crafted “Giselle” is a thing of magic – a lush and lovely production that hits all the high notes of tragedy and romance – and is guaranteed to become a classic of its own in the years to come.

PNB’s “Giselle” runs through June 12th at McCaw Hall in Seattle. For ticket information: 206-441-2424 or visit


Can you see the genie in your child?

  • Written by Kid's Talk

Knowledge without experience is just information. -Mark Twain

"Where are your children going to college?" a mom at our preschool meeting asked me.

I didn’t think I had heard correctly. I had a hard enough time just getting their shoes on and them out the door each morning. College? Let’s get through pre-school.

This mom went on to describe her children’s educational blueprint from preschool to med-school. This was the day, over 20 years ago, when I first encountered over-planning. Today the pressure on parents for children to excel academically seems to be even greater, with our popular culture sending the message that every child at birth should be another Einstein and speak six languages among other things.

The fact of the matter is that every human being is a genius. Robert Kiyosaki in his book Rich Kid, Smart Kid defends each child’s uniqueness by saying that we all have a "genie in-us." Kiyosaki sees our main parenting job as helping our children find their uniqueness and strengthen it. This goes along with one of my favorite sayings: "The purpose of education is to help us find our passion in life."

The words genius and genie are derived from the Latin genius, meaning guardian spirit. We can lose track of that guardian spirit and the gift our children have to bring to the world with activities that offer facts without meaningful experiences.

Knowledge with meaningful experience creates wisdom, or the ability to make commonsense decisions. When we force feed our children information without meaningful experiences, we fail to nurture true learning.

Two-and-a-half-year-old Jake could name each letter of the alphabet using flashcards with his mother. His parents, Kay and Fred, were sure Jake was ready to read.

At a parent information session, Kay and Fred learned there was more to learning to read than memorizing letters. They realized that meaningful language experiences, such as phonemic awareness, vocabulary enrichment and hands-on experiences, were critical to reading success.

Learning to differentiate the sounds in our language and connect them to letter symbols is phonemic awareness. It takes time, practice and a knowledgeable adult to introduce the sounds of our language and to present sounds with symbols.

Naming objects and their parts can strengthen vocabulary. We can also model writing the names of objects to show that written words correspond to spoken words. Reading books aloud and singing songs are enriching.

Hands-on language activities include going for "hunts" through the house looking for objects that share a characteristic, such as color, material or shape. Gathering all the objects necessary for an activity, such as changing a tire or baking bread, then naming and labeling the parts, creates a purposeful learning experience.

Jake had excellent recall of the letter pictures and their names, much like memorizing the names of 26 animals. It would be another two-and-a half years before Jake had enough language experience and knowledge to read. Jake’s parents realized the difference between knowledge and information. Fred and Kay nurtured Jake’s strengths with meaningful language experiences, instead of having Jake memorize symbols.

Give your children experiences that nurture their uniqueness. Feed the genie. Then relax and enjoy being a parent.


Kids Talk TM deals with childhood development issues. Maren Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland. She has over twenty-five years experience working with children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is author of Building Cathedrals Not Walls: Essays for Parents and Teachers. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit Copyright 2011.

Hollywood Hill Elementary students explore the world of physics

  • Written by Deborah Stone

Pictured are fifth graders Stella Haynes Kiehn and Samantha Dammrose, who are exploring convex and concave lenses during a lesson on “Refraction Action.” Photo by Deborah Stone.
Pacific Science Center’s Science On Wheels program has been visiting schools around the state for more than 30 years, engaging students in scientific education and exploration.

Last year, it reached over 325,000 people. Recently, the PSC van made its way to Hollywood Hill Elementary for the day, bringing portable exhibits, demonstrations and instructional activities focusing on the area of physics. Students learned about light, sound, electricity and motion through an entertaining all-school assembly, hands-on experiments and lessons in the classroom. This was the third visit for the van to the school in the past few years.

In the fall, specialists came to do a "Blood and Guts" program, which emphasized the human body and biology. Hollywood Hill’s PTA generously funds the visits and arranges for the many volunteers needed to make the program successful.

"This program has real value," comments Hollywood Hill fifth grade teacher Victoria Gray. "It’s able to add a hands-on component to science that goes beyond what we can typically do. The experience of making science tactile is incredibly valuable for our students. The program is able to provide our teachers with examples of some engaging science lessons and experiences."

Gray explains that while the program helps the students with specific content knowledge, it also gives them an opportunity to practice their inquiry skills by seeing, touching, wondering and asking questions. Each classroom received an individual lesson during the course of the day.

With "Good Vibrations," for example, students explored the world of sound with tuning forks and musical instruments, investigating how people make and hear sounds.

In "Refraction Action," they observed the behavior of laser light as it interacted with different materials in order to understand reflection and refraction.

And in "Pulley Power," the kids designed and explored pulley systems to find out how and why such a simple machine makes works so much easier. Throughout the day, students also visited the library, where a mini science center was set up, with tabletop exhibit sets, experiments and a host of fun activities dealing with gravity wells, pendulums, steel drums, parabolic mirrors, electromagnets, electrical circuits and more.

Parent volunteer Sherri Feldman enthusiastically assisted kids at the various stations. "The kids get really excited about science when it’s done this way," she says. "They get to see it, touch it and explore it in a very tactile, sensory manner, and you can just see the light bulb going off in their heads." She adds, "It brings up questions and gets the kids to think about the why. Their ideas about what science is expand and they realize that science touches everything and is everywhere around them."

Fifth grade teacher Chris Koch echoes Feldman’s views and notes that kids aren’t the only ones that get excited.

She says, "Teachers really like the program, too, and we consider ourselves very fortunate that we have such a generous and supportive PTA that makes it all possible. The program connects with the curriculum and enriches by extending or adding content. And it allows all of the kids to have a shared experience, not just some of the classes, but the whole school gets to participate. It’s very beneficial for everyone." She adds, "What’s also nice about it is that it gives teachers ideas for how to extend student learning through additional activities that we can do with our classes."

Dinosaurs come to life at Woodland Park Zoo

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Tyrannosaurus rex is part of the “Dinosaurs. Real Close” at Woodland Park Zoo. Courtesy photo.
Journey back in time and discover life-size, animatronic creatures that roar, snarl, hiss, spit and move with the "Dinosaurs. Real Close" experience at Woodland Park Zoo.

The new, limited-engagement exhibit developed by Billings Productions, Inc. evokes a primeval forest where visitors will encounter more than 10 colorful dinosaurs from the giant, 19-foot-tall Brachiosaurus to the fearsome, full size Tyrannosaurus rex.

Some are accompanied by their babies such as Styracosaurus, Dilophosaurus and Tyrannosaurus, and there’s even a nest full of Edmontosaurus peeping hatchlings.

The dinosaurs represent seven species that once roamed North America during the Cretaceous and Jurassic periodS.

As visitors stroll through the outdoor setting, they will learn about the amazing adaptations that allowed dinosaurs to exist for millions of years and that connect them to the modern birds of today.

The curious-minded can head to Zoomazium to get a peek at the inner workings of the animatronic dinosaurs and explore the robotic wizardry beneath the shell of one of the robots.

Special programs, from keeper chats to dinosaur biofact exploration, will allow visitors to delve deeper into the science of dinosaurs and find links to some of the living species at the zoo.

Though these creatures ruled the earth for millions of years, their demise helps to shine a light on the massive extinction crisis many species are facing right now, from birds to turtles.

Though they’ve outlasted dinosaurs, turtles are going extinct faster than any other vertebrate terrestrial today.

Through this exhibit, visitors will gain information about the current extinction crisis and ways Woodland Park Zoos is working to protect wildlife around the globe and in our own backyard.

"There are many exhibits out there about dinosaurs," comments Rebecca Whitham, public relations coordinator for the zoo. "We are taking the perspective that they were living animals and looking at what made them so successful for so many millions of years. How did they adapt to their environment? And then we’re going a step further and focusing on the rapid extinction of other creatures that is happening today, and examining the steps we can take to prevent it from occurring."

"Dinosaurs. Real Close." is part of the zoo’s "Get Real Close" summer experience, highlighting exciting opportunities for the public to get close to nature and go eye-to-eye with a number of different animals.

Among such opportunities is the chance to feed browse (plant materials) to an elephant, feel the tug of a giraffe’s 18-inch tongue at a feeding experience, take a guided safari tour of the African Savanna exhibit and experience the breeze of the barn owl’s wings at the free-flight raptor program.

"Dinosaurs, Real Close" runs through September 5 at Woodland Park Zoo.

For more information, or (206) 548-2500.

What's Your Role? - Small Business Owners

  • Written by Deborah Stone

Small business owners play an integral role in the community

Small businesses are essential to communities and the economy. There are over 24 million small businesses in the country and they employ half of all private sector employees, pay 45 percent of the total U.S. private payroll and have generated more jobs and opportunities than any other business sector.

crossroads"They really are the lifeblood of a small town," says Jeff Thomas, owner of Crossroad SIGN in Woodinville. "They keep it going economically and play an important role in the community."

Thomas provides sign and branding services to other small business owners and property managers. He’s in what can be described as the "visibility business" – helping other companies enhance their visibility and presence.

The local man, a longtime Woodinville resident, comments on how he perceives his role as a small business owner.

"It’s not only about selling our products," he explains. "But, it’s about helping others be successful in the community." He adds, "Being actively involved in the community is important for a small business owner. I’m involved in the Chamber of Commerce and various networking groups. And then I sponsor youth athletic and racing teams, the farmers market, and other local events and organizations. Of course, it’s an opportunity for me to get the company’s name out there, but it’s also a chance to help the different groups in the community and to give something back."

Thomas views Woodinville as a great place to live, but he feels that the local government needs to be more accommodating and welcoming to small businesses.

"The people here are great and it’s been a wonderful place to raise our family, but for small business owners, it can be a challenge," he comments. "Woodinville is seen primarily as a tourist destination. But, we need to make it known that we have more to offer. We need to find a way to link the wine and music venues with small businesses. That’s the key."

Lisa and Eric Norrgard
Over at Norrgard’s Optik, Lisa Norrgard, who owns the optical boutique with her husband Eric, sees her role as a small business owner in much the same way as Thomas.

"Our goal as a business is to help make our customers see and look better," explains Norrgard. "We try to make a difference to the people who come in our door, by assisting them with their concerns." She adds, "Establishing relationships and providing personalized attention and service is important to us. Many of our customers have become friends over the years."

Norrgard and her husband are also actively involved in the community. Their onsite art gallery displays works by local artists and they have held various events to raise money for Children’s Country Home in Woodinville. They provide free adjustments and repairs on glasses for the elderly at nearby retirement centers and deliver glasses free to housebound individuals.

"We like to be a part of the community," comments Norrgard. "We support the organizations and the other businesses here and we advocate shopping locally first." She adds, "It’s a two-way street. We support the community and they in turn support us."