Dance Arts Los Alamos presents ‘Giselle’ Friday night at Duane Smith Auditorium. Photo Courtesy DALA
BY KAELAN PRIME
For those unfamiliar with the Romantic Era ballet, Giselle, it premiered in 1841 at the Paris Opera. Originally choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot and composed by Adolfe Adam, the ballet is now endowed as one of the great classical ballets and is still performed in its many iterations worldwide. The basic storyline is, of course, one of love and betrayal. Young maiden Giselle, beautiful and innocent, loves to dance but has a weak heart. Disguised as a peasant, Count Albrecht wins Giselle’s affections and proposes to her. She is elated, and is even gifted a necklace by Princess Bathilde, who is also enchanted by the youthful innocence of Giselle. Unfortunately, gamekeeper Hilarion, who has long loved Giselle, discovers the Count’s deception: not only is he not a peasant, but he is already betrothed to Princess Bathilde, despite his declarations of love for Giselle. All is revealed and Giselle, horribly distraught at this discovery, falls into madness and dies.
The ballet resumes deep in the forest where Giselle has joined the Wilis, the ghosts of scorned women who lure unsuspecting men into dancing to death. When Hilarion visits the grave of Giselle, Myrta, Queen of the Wilis, orders her Wilis to dance him to death. Soon after, Albrecht, too, visits Giselle’s grave to mourn her and express his remorse. Once again, Myrta commands her Wilis to destroy him. However, Giselle is still in love with Albrecht, dancing with him and assuring his survival until the dawn when the Wilis lose their power and can no longer harm Albrecht. The ballet concludes when Giselle disappears with the rest of the Wilis and leaves a bereaved Albrecht weeping over her grave.
On Friday, May 19, Dance Arts Los Alamos (DALA) will present its own production of Giselle at Duane Smith Auditorium at 7:00 PM. The performance will also be preceded by a gala at the Fuller Lodge from 5:15 PM to 6:30 PM hosted by DALA to unveil their 2023-2024 season. The community production features a great variety of performers, from young children to members of DALA’s adult ballet class and will also boast guest artist Christo McMaster, company member of Festival Ballet Albuquerque and faculty at Dance Theater Southwest in Albuquerque.
Upon curtains opening, I was immediately impressed by the thoughtful set design bringing me straight to Giselle’s village. Perhaps for those less seasoned in the ballet world, it may come as a surprise how much acting and pantomiming plays into a story like Giselle. The acute attention to facial expressions, gestures and tone by DALA’s dancers will leave no one guessing; it is clear they poured heart and soul into communicating this story to the audience.
The role of Giselle is played by senior Violet Henderson, who takes to the stage early in Act I and commands absolute attention from her audience. Her precise movements and strength, matched with a bright and exciting stage presence made it impossible for me to look away. As the ballet continued, peasants of all ages joined the stage and truly sold that they were at a festival celebrating, often giving pause to applaud their fellow dancers as each difficult step was completed with grace. For me, this scene was crowned by a beautiful peasant pas de trois, featuring Jonathan Guise, Allyson Harbert and Anabel Irving, who melded seamlessly through well-rehearsed and technically challenging lifts. The dancers engaged with each other, exuding energy, and thus drawing the audience engagement flawlessly as well. This was particularly true of Andrea Rivera, who took to the stage as Giselle’s friend with such liveliness that it was contagious. By the end of the first act, Giselle (Henderson) had gone mad in heartbreak and I was hooked and itching to see the rest of the ballet.
Act II opened with both Hilarion and Albrecht visiting Giselle’s grave, as well as the introduction of Myrta, Queen of the Wilis. Myrta, played by senior Sonja Ebey, exudes cruel grace. Ebey’s use of space and effortless control in her movements makes it believable that she commands the kind of power to keep charge of a ghostly hoard of vengeful women. She takes charge of the stage and does well to set the mood. Ironically, it is in dancing to death that junior Samuel Pesiri in the role of Hilarion shines with his clear enthusiasm to dance and convincing panic in trying to escape the Wilis. Although, I’m not convinced I want to escape the Wilis. They were truly mesmerizing: dancing in elegant synchronicity, with beautiful stark white costumes that draw you in just as I imagine the real Wilis might. While I enjoyed the entire ballet, the Wilis dancing in unison is both beautiful and compelling and makes them the cherry on top. As Giselle defends Albrecht from the Wilis, we see the cruel chaos of the Wilis as well as the soft romance that lingers between Giselle and Albrecht. Guest artist Christo McMaster, with years of experience under his belt, artfully navigates a series of lifts and dances amongst the Wilis, showing off his technique while still highlighting the DALA dancers’ skills along the way.
Overall, the DALA production of Giselle does well to honor the classic original in an inclusive environment that anyone can appreciate. I think everyone will be as impressed as I was by these dancers’ dedication to their craft, their lively stage presence and the beautiful technique I’m sure they have all worked so hard to achieve.