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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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 ; )