Fangirling over the Wilis or Why I Need to go to Seattle

PNB's 'Giselle' Opens this Friday, May 30th in Seattle

It’s Spring, which means that ballet season is in full swing. In fact, I’m actually writing this post while sitting in the theatre, prepping tech for a ballet production of The Wizard of Oz.

Oh, you didn’t know there was a ballet season? Why yes, there is. Companies usually take a break over the summer so that professional dancers can take a little time to rest (from performances, but not class) and pre-professional dancers can be whisked away to exotic destinations (read: NYC/Seattle/LA/Paris/Canada) to study with the very best and hope and pray for an audition with a company.

In full disclosure, I never went to these camps. I spent my summers at horse camp, usually. I do, however, remember enviously spying over other (read: much better) dancers’ 3-ring binders that were filled with applications (pre-online application) and watching the photo shoots every year as they all took photos at the barre in various positions and poses so the applicant judges could see their potential in a few photographs.

I don’t perform anymore (you’re welcome), but I still work for a ballet company and I have a healthy appreciation for the art. Currently, I’m lusting over Pacific Northwest Ballet’s new staging of the ballet, Giselle.

Here’s a quick synopsis, courtesy of the Seattle Times and from a Nouvelle Gamine post about The Royal Book of Ballet:

At first called “Giselle ou les Wilis” (“Giselle, or The Wilis”), the ballet tells the story of an innocent peasant girl driven mad by romantic deceit. After her death, she is transported to a moonlit glade haunted by Wilis — the vengeful ghosts of young women who died before their wedding night. The story was inspired by two sources: a Victor Hugo poem about a girl whose love for dancing caused her death, and a passage about the Wilis (a Slavic legend) in a Heinrich Heine work. (via ST)

Giselle, falls in love with Duke Albrecht who has disguised himself as a peasant. his secret is betrayed by Hilarion who also loves Giselle. Knowing she can never wed her noble lover, Giselle commits suicide.

The region is haunted by the wilis, vengeful ghostly women who destroy any man unfortunate enough to cross their paths at midnight. sure enough, the queen of the ghostly wilis claims Giselle’s soul and they drown the mournful Hilarion.

When the grieving Albrecht visits Giselle’s grave the wilis appear and attempt to kill him. Giselle tries save him but is under the queen’s power. Only the 4 o’clock morning bell, heralding dawn, saves Albrecht. The wilis return to their graves, except for Giselle. Her love for Albrecht has released her from their control and she is able to rest in peace. (via NG)

Not usually a ballet fan? Picture this: costumes from Pride and Prejudice, Downton Abbey & The Infernal Devices all dancing around on stage. If for nothing else, you should fall in love with this ballet for the costumes. 

The costumes. Oh, the glorious costumes. I’m not one to lust over ball gowns and red carpet designers. But tutus? Oh, I love them. Especially the romantic length tutus of the wilis (the spirits of jilted lovers) in Giselle. This new production features all new costumes, designed by renowned (the ballet world) designer,      Here’s a really awesome Q&A with him about the costumes for this new production.

Giselle’s costume is modeled specifically on the one worn by Carlotta Grisi on that 1841 opening night. It’s two costumes, but one design: The Act II version is the same dress, rendered in all-white. (via Seattle Times article)

Giselle’s costume is modeled specifically on the one worn by Carlotta Grisi on that 1841 opening night. It’s two costumes, but one design: The Act II version is the same dress, rendered in all-white. (via Seattle Times article)

Each performance uses 82 costumes, all of which were constructed at PNB’s costume shop. They include 800 yards of ribbon trim, 900 hand-sewn buttons, 13 top hats, and 550 yards of tulle — the latter only including the Act I women’s skirts. Each Wili in Act II wears a six-layered skirt (four layers of tulle, two of silk), with each layer approximately 14.5 yards in circumference. For 19 Wilis, that’s 1,653 yards of fabric — the equivalent of nearly 14 football fields. (via Seattle Times 10 Fun Facts about PNB’s Giselle; read the entire article here)

 Love, love, love this photo mashup with PNB dancers Jahna Frantziskonis, Elizabeth Murphy & Elle Macy modeling their new Giselle costumes alongside historical Giselle illustrations of the same costume and pose. We opens Friday! Jahna Frantziskonis top and bottom left corners, Elizabeth Murphy top and bottom right corners, Elle Macy middle right.

Love, love, love this photo mashup with PNB dancers Jahna Frantziskonis, Elizabeth Murphy & Elle Macy modeling their new Giselle costumes alongside historical Giselle illustrations of the same costume and pose. 
Jahna Frantziskonis top and bottom left corners, Elizabeth Murphy top and bottom right corners, Elle Macy middle right. (via PNB’s FB page)

Here are my absolute favorite. For professional dancers hating life because they’ve been relegated to the corps, know that I love you dearly. The precision of the corps is my favorite part of watching a ballet. The corps girls make up the cast of the village girls and most beautifully, the Wilis. Dear corps girls, honestly, I could watch just you. Giselle could go somewhere else for all I care. Of course, then I may as well just be watching Le Sylphides…


A note about the beautiful white wili costumes, from the Seattle Times article, states:

The wispy, white-clad Wilis are part of a tradition of ballet-blancs, or white ballet, performed by an all-female corps de ballet and popular in the 19th-century romantic era. The first white ballet was a chorus of dead nuns (!) in the opera “Robert le Diable” (1831); other examples are the wood nymphs in “La Sylphide,” the underworld specters of “La Bayadere,” the Wilis and the swans of “Swan Lake.”

These beautiful illustrations of the ballet were found in The Royal Book of Ballet, published in 1962.

Painting of 'The Wilis' from The Royal Book of Ballet, published 1962


Here are a few more photographs, from various companies, of the gorgeous and ethereal Wilis:

Another reason I adore the ballet, Giselle, is that pretty much any ballet book you can read mentions Giselle. Especially if it’s a memoir. There must be something about the love story that just speaks to dancers. One of my favorite movies as a kid, Dancers (starring Mikhail Barishnikov, the ‘dancer guy’ that non-dancers would recognize from Sex and the City), was loosely based on art in life as the dancer befell a major meltdown (like Giselle’s character) while rehearsing for…Giselle. Think early version of Black Swan. One of my more recent reads, Astonish Me, by Maggie Shipstead, even mentioned the sad story of Giselle and how it related to her own unrequited love with a male dancer in her company. Here’s a link back to a previous post about that book and some other ballet books worthy of mention.

Now, here’s my big admission…I’ve never seen a professional ballet performance live. I know! I can’t even believe this myself, but it’s true. I’ve seen Tallahassee Ballet and South Georgia Ballet perform dozens upon dozens of productions from The Nutcracker (16 seasons worth) to Copellia, The Sleeping Beauty and many more. I’ve seen professional productions online and in movies. My two-year old son loves to watch the fight scene between the Montagues and Capulets on YouTube from various professional productions of Romeo and Juliet.

I’ll get there one day. It would be amazing if I could make it across the country and all the way to Seattle to see this production in all it’s gloriousness, but it’s very unlikely to happen. For now, I’ll live through their Facebook posts and adore the costumes, sets and dance from afar.

South Georgia Ballet & SGB Conservatory present The Wizard of Oz, this weekend!

If you happen to be in Thomasville, or our area, this weekend, instead of in Seattle, stop by the Municipal Auditorium and catch a performance of The Wizard of Oz by our company, South Georgia Ballet, and school, South Georgia Ballet Conservatory. If for no other reason, our little reviewer, W, is in the Saturday evening performance as a Kansas Daisy and in the Lollipop Guild ; )

Read Up!



New Release Wrap-Up: Top 20 April Books that You’ll Want to Read

April was a great book release month for YA readers. Here’s my top 20 recommendations for your TBR list:

On this list, we have:

The Book I’m going to pick up from The Bookshelf in about 5 minutes…

Books to read at the beach when the kids are running around and you’re needing to live vicariously through young, single people:

Books to read to pretend we’re professional dancers:

Books to will read when you want to pretend you are more than a mere mortal:

Book to read to restore faith in the next generation learning something from their mistakes:

Book to will read to scare the bejeezus out of yourself:

Book I will read while I’m in theatre week and pulling my hair out over The Wizard of Oz production (this is not intended toward our own Dorothy…just Oz in general : )

Books to read to love and share with the kiddos when they’re avid middle grades readers (which, honestly, I think is one of the best genres…more on that later):

Book to will read to cry yourself to sleep:

Books that are oddballs, but have a lot of hype and good reviews, so they’re on my TBR list…and since you’re goal in life is to Read Up with the Joneses, they should also be on yours:

So there you have it! My TBR April list (yes, I’ve already read Dreams of Gods and Monsters, but I will reread it, so back on the list it goes!)

Here’s an extended list from Goodreads with a few more you may like…you know…in case you do actually read more than we do in the Jones homestead. Check them out and purchase a few for your bookshelf. Either visit The Bookshelf, downtown Thomasville or purchase through the Jones’ Book Shop (so we get credit through our affiliate link and can keep up the site that you’ve all come to know and love) and keep Reading Up with the Joneses!



Book Anticipation: Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

Astonish Me Cover Art

There are three things I do an awful lot of: 1)read 2)clean up after my kiddos 3)dance.

My actual “day job” is with a local ballet company, South Georgia Ballet, and their feeder school, South Georgia Ballet Conservatory. I’ve been with the company for 16 years in some capacity or the other. Regardless, I spend more time in the studio than I do my own home.

Naturally, I’m drawn to dance books, especially books about ballet. Being so engulfed in YA lit for the past year, I wasn’t even privy to this new novel from Maggie Shipstead until I heard about it from NPR’s Maureen Corrigan. You can read or listen to her review here. The book comes out this month on the 8th. I’m really looking forward to it! In the meantime, I’d love to share some of my favorite and hopeful ballet reads.
First: The hopefuls
Painted Girls Cover Art Bunheads Cover ArtA Company of Swans Cover ArtThe Melting Season Cover Art

These all look really good and really different. There are so many levels and facets to the world of ballet, not to mention the span of time it crosses. Not only do I adore the covers, but the reviews are pretty intriguing. Have you read any? Which are your favorites?


Last: The favorites

Now, let me remind you: I have read A LOT of ballet books. These are just my favorites

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The first three of these four titles are written by former dancers. They. Are. Great. And honest. And true to the art and world of dance. They really explore the nitty gritty of professional ballet and I LOVE it.

The last, Granny Dan, is a book that I read eons ago on a summer vacation to my aunt’s house when there was nothing for a 12-year old to do. She bought this at the grocery store check out because it had a ballerina on the cover, so she thought I’d like it. Trust me when I say that my daughter won’t be reading this when she’s twelve. Maybe fifteen. Maybe. Besides a few very romantic scenes (craftily written by Steel so that my 12-yr old self could only guess as to what actually went on), this book is the epitome of loveliness. It is set in the world of the Romanov’s, complete with the stories of Alexi, Rasputin, and a very attentive doctor to the boy. Danina, the ballerina in this story, is a favorite performer of the Tsar and Tsarina. After falling ill, she is invited to live in a little cottage on the palace grounds to recover at the care of Alexi’s doctor. Romance ensues, and of course, chaos, as the Romanov dynasty falls apart. This was the first book that made me cry. I so vividly remember wanting to reach through and give the elderly grandmother, affectionately known as Granny Dan in her later years, a hug of condolence for the life she left behind. If you love ballet or the Romanov’s, you should certainly pick this title up!

Are you looking forward to reading Astonish Me? What are your favorite dance books and/or genres? There are so many out there! Let me know and keep reading up with the Joneses!