The Sarasota Ballet’s take on ‘Giselle’ reveals some modern themes with a mature company.
“Giselle” is a classic story of love, innocence, betrayal and forgiveness — but there’s also a modern theme that’s less obvious.
“It features a large group of women, and there’s a sense of community there,” says Sarasota Ballet Junior Principal Amy Wood. “It’s about women sticking together.”
Principal Victoria Hulland nods in agreement.
“It’s a reversal — the women are saving the man. Girl power!”
Sarasota Ballet takes on this iconic full-length ballet April 26 and 27 — the first time the company has performed the work in its entirety since 2009.
“Giselle,” the Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli ballet that made its debut in 1841 with the Paris Opera Ballet, opens on rich noble, Count Albrecht, disguised as a peasant. He charms a naive young village girl, Giselle, into falling deeply in love with him — so much so that she denies her other admirer, Hilarion.
Hilarion and Giselle’s mother worry about the effect Albrecht has on Giselle, and their concerns are validated when Albrecht’s fiancée, Bathilde, comes riding in with an elite hunting party. The revelation that her love is betrothed to another woman drives Giselle mad, and she dies of heartbreak.
In the second act, the story follows Giselle’s journey in the afterlife with the Wilis, a group of spirits of young girls who were betrayed. The troupe of heartbroken souls and their queen, Myrtha, aim to seek revenge by killing the men who did them wrong — but when they go after her beloved Albrecht, Giselle fights for his life.
Hulland plays the role of Giselle in Sarasota Ballet’s upcoming production, and she sees the ballet as a story most remarkable for its representation of forgiveness.
Although Giselle starts off as an innocent girl who loses herself in her love for a man promised to someone else, Hulland says she learns to accept her reality and how to harness the power of her love for good.
“By the end of the second act she understands love,” Hulland says of her character’s development. “I love seeing her grow from a girl to a woman.”
Principal Ricardo Graziano plays Albrecht, a character he says also goes through a great deal of growth throughout the ballet.
“He understands more about himself in those two hours,” he says. “He knows he shouldn’t go for her, but he cares for her.”
Graziano wants to bring a “nice guy” element to the otherwise easily unlikable (at least to the women in the crowd) character, so he’s aiming to make him appear reflective and regretful of his actions as he experiences the great suffering his actions cause (i.e. Giselle’s death).
As a lover of story ballets, Graziano says he’s completely in his element in the role of Albrecht. Woods, however, is far out of her comfort zone as Wilis Queen Myrtha — but she’s using that challenge to grow as a dancer and storyteller.
“She’s cold and stern … and has a disdain for all men,” she says, sparking a brief discussion about whether her character dislikes all men or only those who have betrayed woman. Woods and Hulland outnumber Graziano with the former perspective — Myrtha takes no crap from anyone of the opposite sex.
“She’s like, ‘Talk to the hand, get out of my sight,’” Graziano says with a laugh.
Myrtha, whom Woods also describes as “distinguished but not forgiving,” is difficult to play because she’s sharp. She demands a strength that isn’t always required of ballerinas — but Woods says that’s all part of the fun.
Hulland says she’s enjoying her return — 10 years later — to the character of Giselle because she can look at the role differently as an older dancer with more life experience. She’s experienced the ups and downs of love and now, she says, she’s more emotionally equipped to show Giselle’s growth.
Being a full-length ballet, this program also allows her the chance to dive even deeper into her role as an actor and dancer.
“You’re more focused — you have one character to work on and can give all your energy to one thing,” she says of rehearsing a full-length ballet versus the company’s typical triple bills. “You don’t have to split your brain.”
Graziano says the other plus is having the chance to research his role extensively. He’s watched several performances of the ballet by other companies, which helped him decide what his personal take on Albrecht would be.
The Sarasota Ballet version will be different than any previous take on the classic, he assures us. Even for those who saw it in the same theater 10 years ago.
“We’re a completely different company now,” he says. “More mature.”