Giselle is a dream role for most any dancer, and now, Alberto Pretto can count himself as one of the few men to perform it. This month, he made his debut in Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo's Giselle (Act II). Pointe spoke with Pretto (aka Nina Immobilashvili) about the all-male company's comic twist on the classic.
Legendary Russian dancer and stager Elena Kunikova coached you in the role. What was that like?
More than just the steps, we worked on the character and telling the story through dance. She focused a lot on the way I carry my upper body. I have quite a long neck, so she told me to pull it forward in this very demure and sad position. We also worked on the moments we could make Giselle funny. If I take myself very, very seriously, I can make a joke out of it.
When Giselle comes out the grave. Our staging has a coffin that opens, and she comes out apologetically, like, Should I come out? Should I not come out?
What else gives this Giselle the Trockadero stamp?
It's all built on the relationships between the characters. Our Myrta is very strong and butch, and the Wilis aren't regular Wilis. They're almost like mummies. Their hair is all messed up, their faces are scary, they're pale.
How did you prepare?
Svetlana Zakarhova and Carla Fracci are my favorite Giselles, and I did a lot of video research. Carla is dramatic in everything, so by watching all those little moments, you can get the nuance and push it a bit further so that it becomes funny.
What's most difficult about the role of Giselle?
Carrying the upper body in a different way since it's not a ballet from the 20th century. Really understanding the épaulement, how she’s bending forward. Nowadays, we dance big, but this isn't about how high the leg is. And achieving the lightness was really hard, especially for a guy—we approach jumps with a lot of energy. For me, I had to work on getting the arms to be really, really light.
Earlier in your career, you danced with other companies like the English National Ballet. What was the road to the Trocks like?
I was in so-called "regular" companies for some time, but at a certain point, I didn’t feel very challenged or motivated. Most of the time I was partnering the girl, and I just wanted to dance more. And also, I always had this love for pointe shoes—which were forbidden for men but such a fascination for me. Finally, I was like, You know what? It’s the moment for me to embrace that and see if maybe this is something I would like to do. When I auditioned for the Trocks, I discovered this whole world and that it was okay for a man to dance on pointe and make a career out of it. That’s just beautiful.
Did you start pointework before you joined the company?
Yes. I would put them on in the corner when no one could see me after class. But I actually started training on pointe a couple months before auditioning for the Trocks. I joined a beginner ballet class for girls on pointe and started from scratch all over again. It was a humbling moment, for sure, but I felt like it was necessary for me to go through that to achieve the strength needed to go up on pointe properly. I needed that to get stronger technically.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo performs two mixed bills at The Joyce, in New York City, through Dec. 31.