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"…and at least one of them lived unhappily ever after."
Madness, death, and dance in Fort Wayne Ballet's Giselle
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Giselle is one of those fairy tales where a beautiful, charming young woman meets the man of her dreams and falls in love. Unfortunately, her love interest is a jerk who betrays her affections, and though he’s redeemed, he’ll spend the rest of his life knowing he has missed his chance at happiness. Still, in the end, he probably has it better than his love, Giselle — she’s dead.
Kind of… grim, isn’t it? Where’s the happily ever after?
“It depends how much you believe in true love,” laughs Jeremy Blanton, who is serving as a sort of “assistant guest director” for the Fort Wayne Ballet’s production of Giselle.
If that’s the case, then true love really puts Giselle through the ringer. Giselle is a beautiful young peasant girl who loves two things in life. The first is dancing. “When she first comes out in the ballet, she opens the door and it’s like she’s sprung out of a cage, she just dances all across the stage, she’s so happy,” Blanton says.
The second is her boyfriend, “Loys,” and that’s where the trouble starts. “Loys” is actually Albrecht, a nobleman who for kicks has decided to dress up as a peasant. He’s already engaged to Bathilde, the daughter of the Duke. Giselle’s other suitor, Hilarion, tries to warn her, but Giselle won’t hear of it. Of course, the deception is discovered eventually, and the betrayal drives Giselle mad and she dies of a broken heart.
And that’s only the first act. In the second act, Giselle has become one of the wilis, spirits of young women who have died before their wedding day. They kill any young man who enters the forest between midnight and dawn, a fate that meets loyal bumpkin Hilarion when he comes to visit Giselle’s grave. But when Albrecht also wanders into the wood, true love wins out over the wili sisterhood and Giselle saves him, pouring flowers over him as a symbol of forgiveness. “She is condemned to go back into the grave, never to return, even as a wili,” Blanton says. “But she has saved her true love. So it picks up at the end.”
Giselle is probably one of the most nuanced popular ballets, but the range of emotions makes it a challenge for any dancer who takes on the role. For the Fort Wayne Ballet’s production, Giselle’s transformation from ebullient free spirit to literal haunted spirit falls to Lucia Rogers.
Once a student a now part of the faculty of Fort Wayne Ballet, Rogers has danced roles that were technically more challenging than Giselle, but few with the character’s emotional depth. “There’s so much behind Giselle,” she says. “In Act I, she’s very bubbly. I call it ‘happy movement.’ There’s lots of jumping, lots of flirting between Giselle and Albrecht. But in Act II it’s a lot more subtle. The movement is more deliberate. It has to be seamless, like it’s nothing.”
The scene where Giselle goes crazy is particularly tricky. “You don’t want the audience sitting there going ‘what was that?’” Rogers says. “You have set up how this happy girl is, how she’s totally in love, so the audience buys it. Otherwise, Giselle’s descent into madness just looks silly. That’s the one thing I worry about.”
Blanton is confident in Rogers’ ability to deliver a great performance. He first met Rogers seven or eight years ago when she was a student at Fort Wayne Ballet, and was impressed with her work ethic. “I would notice the progress of this girl,” he says of Rogers. “She has a wonderful integrity to her work. You see it, and you want to work with a student like that. You give her little tidbits of information and she applies them. It works beautifully.”
And Blanton is well-qualified to judge what’s needed to portray Giselle. A long-time friend and professional associate of Karen Gibbons-Brown, the artistic director of the Fort Wayne Ballet, Blanton has a long career in professional ballet and dance, with stints in the Joffrey Ballet (his first job), the Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company, 10 years as Premier Danseur with the National Ballet of Canada, and associate director of the American Ballet Theatre II, just to name a few. He was also in the original Broadway production of Chicago where he was rehearsal coach and, during the show’s tour, Bob Fosse’s personal assistant. “Since retiring to Florida a few years ago, one of the few things I still do is come to Fort Wayne to work with Karen (Gibbons-Brown), because I realize the wonderful job she and the organization are doing here,” he says.
“There is a standard by which the dance world works, and Karen insists on meeting that standard and going slightly above,” he adds. “I mean, I come here and the children know their terminology, they know their dance history, they know the music and who wrote it, what ballet it’s from, what symphony it’s from. These kids know it and it’s impressive to see. When I walk in to teach a class, their classroom etiquette is A-1. They are here to work.”
The Fort Wayne Ballet presents Giselle
Saturday, March 15 at 2:30 pm and 8 pm
Sunday, March 16 at 2:30 pm and 8 pm
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Tickets: $15/adult; $10/seniors; $10/youth (ages 11-17); $10/children (ages 3-10)
Call the Fort Wayne Ballet at (260) 424-9646 for tickets, or drop by their offices at 324 Penn Avenue