Portland Ballet reprised its beautiful “Giselle” over the weekend, with Jennifer Jones as the title character.

The Portland area is fortunate to have ballet companies staging major classics such as “Giselle,” as well as the must-have annual “Nutcracker” and various new works.

“Giselle” is full of iconic moments in both music and movement, and being present for a skilled, sensitive performance is truly a privilege.

Portland Ballet originally produced the ballet in 2009, with staging by guest choreographer Catherine Batcheller and now-artistic director Nell Shipman in the starring role. Most of the choreography is traditional and inextricably linked to the music for any ballet fan.

The part of Giselle is demanding for any ballerina, requiring physical endurance and dramatic range, as well as technical versatility to encompass both quick footwork and lyrical expression.

Jones is exquisite in the role. On Saturday, her performance in the first act – when sweet peasant girl Giselle falls in love with disguised nobleman Albrecht – was light as air with childlike joy. Her grande developpes, in which one leg is flung above the head while the other foot rises to pointe, were a marvel of fluidity and control. Her hops on pointe were ethereal, and her turns were precise and musical.

Russell Hewey was a strong partner as Albrecht, and he and Jones achieved nice unison and line in their shared country-dance-inspired ballottes and flowing glissades.

After Giselle discovers that Albrecht is already engaged, to a woman of equal status (Bathilde, performed by Portland Ballet favorite Mary Stride), her weak heart gives out and she dies, after a descent into tragic madness.

One of the ways in which that descent is shown is the introduction of splayed legs and flexed feet for Giselle. The contrast with Jones’ precision throughout the previous dancing made these elements, although subtle, clearly expressive. As the choreography progresses, Giselle repeats bits and pieces of the steps that she previously performed with Albrecht, and Jones’ halting rendition of these touched the heart.

Jennifer Jones dances the role of Giselle and Russell Hewey dances the role of Albrecht in the Portland Ballet 2017 production of “Giselle.” Photo courtesy of Portland Ballet

In the world of “Giselle,” there is a special punishment for men who betray women to whom they have promised marriage: being danced to death by their ghosts.

Portland Ballet opens the second act on a stage impressively full of mist, with Giselle’s gravestone looming at the back. Albrecht, visiting the grave in grief, encounters the ghostly Wilis, shades of betrayed almost-brides led by their queen, Myrtha (Kelsey Harrison).

The Wilis dance in unison and formation, apparently mesmerized, with gossamer white veils covering their faces and shoulders. Their choreography is a challenge – and a delight – for the corps de ballet, including hops in arabesque across the stage, in crossing lines of dancers. The Wilis impressed with these, and with their tightly crossed, gliding bourrees.

The dancers’ veils were used to great effect, emphasizing both bridal and ghostly qualities, with a touch of Halloween spiderwebs when the dancers’ raised arms met.

Albrecht is destined for merciless treatment at the hands of the Wilis, but Giselle’s shade appears, pleads with Myrtha and dances with Albrecht through the night to save his life. At first, Giselle is invisible to Albrecht; Jones and Hewey portrayed this effectively, with fleeting touches and lifts.

Another iconic choreographic moment is Giselle’s deep arabesque penchee (the back leg vertically raised while the body bends forward) behind Albrecht as he kneels in grief. Here again, Jones’ performance was outstanding. Her standing leg was like a pillar, belying the difficulty of achieving the perfect balance required by this step, and her arabesque rose smoothly into the air.

For years, Portland Ballet presented a Halloween-themed performance in October. “Giselle” is a departure from that tradition, but not completely. The ballet has much broader appeal, but is adequately creepy to be a good seasonal choice.

Regardless of its place in the schedule, Portland Ballet’s “Giselle” is always a treat.

Jennifer Brewer is a Portland-based freelance writer.