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Simone Messmer as Giselle. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.

When Miami City Ballet brought Giselle back into its repertoire recently, the company borrowed sets and costumes from American Ballet Theatre. MCB principal (and former ABT soloist) Simone Messmer would dance the lead after years of watching and performing alongside famous ballerinas in the title role. "I had so much attachment to that production, and those costumes," says Messmer, who had danced nearly every role except the coveted Giselle. "When I finally performed it, I think I wore Alessandra Ferri's costume for Act I and Natalia Makarova's for Act II." To add to the emotional roller coaster, ABT company members had written "merde" messages for Messmer's debut and tucked them in with the costumes when they were shipped to Miami.

Taking on a classic role such as Giselle comes with a tall order: respecting history while trying to make history. The ballerina must come into her own within a role, even as she hews close to decades- or centuries-old choreography. Below, Messmer talks about what it took for them to make a classic role her own.


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The Bolshoi Ballet's "Le Corsaire." Photo via Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema.

In a dream world we'd all be able to pop over to the Bolshoi to see the best of Russian ballet whenever we want. But because (unfortunately) that's not a possibility for most of us, the Bolshoi makes it easier by bringing their masterpieces to the silver screen. Now in its 8th year, the 2017-18 Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema season presents a wide range of classic story ballets restaged by some of today's most celebrated choreographers. Movie theaters nationwide will screen these ballets starting on October 22; you can find the closest cinema to your hometown here. So grab a ballet-loving friend and a bucket of popcorn and be sure to get your tickets soon—if these knockout trailers are any indication, tickets are bound to sell out fast.

First up is Le Corsaire. Reworked by Alexei Ratmansky (a theme of this year's selections) from Petipa's 19th century classic, this ballet is billed by the Bolshoi as one of their "most lavish productions." A full shipwreck on stage? Yeah, "lavish" seems about right.

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Isabella Boylston teaches "Giselle" in the Cloud & Victory 'Ballet Dancers Sweat Glitter' tee; via Instagram

Learning a variation for the first time is definitely one of the most rewarding parts of ballet. And when American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston teaches you that variation as part of a master class series hosted by dancewear brand Cloud & Victory, the whole process gets even more exciting. Dreamt up by Cloud & Victory founder Min, the day-long workshop at Joffrey Ballet School in New York City consisted of a technique class taught by fellow ABT principal Gillian Murphy, as well as variations from both Murphy and Boylston. After Murphy taught Black Swan, Boylston gave the dancers another classic with Act I of Giselle. If you weren't lucky enough to be among the dozens of aspiring ballerinas gathered at the master class, check out some of Boylston's tips for learning Giselle at home.

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Karen Kain is internationally renowned as a performer and as the National Ballet of Canada's artistic director. The former NBoC principal always carries herself with the grace and sophistication of a true leader. However, in this 1976 clip from Giselle, the distinguished ballerina is convincingly naïve and bewildered in her interpretation of the mad scene.



Kain conveys Giselle's innocence at the start of the scene with pure, unaffected gestures and facial expressions. Then, after Albrecht betrays her, her eyes stare unfocused into the distance as if she's in a trance. Although this scene is mostly acting, Kain dances dreamily to the musical motif at 5:30 and conceals her technical strength in order to show the character's frailty. It takes a true ballerina to perform this heartbreaking and beautiful role, and with performances like this and her lifelong commitment to the art form, Kain proves that she is an extraordinary one. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Pointe Stars
Photo by Robert Presutti, courtesy of Instagram

After a flawless performance of Giselle this past week, we've become a little obsessed with Sarah Lane. The American Ballet Theatre soloist seamlessly performed the crisp jumps and airy dancing that matched Giselle's youthful approach to love. Then transitioned into more fluid arm movements and lengthened lines that went along with her heartbreak (after an impressive mad scene at the end of Act I) as a Wili.

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For those who have eagerly followed Julie Kent's illustrious career, all eyes turned to DC when she took the job as The Washington Ballet's new artistic director. This week, audiences are getting a taste of what the company looks like under her leadership, as the spring season begins.

Kent as Giselle, photo by Marty Sohl

Kent chose to kick off her inaugural season with a restaging of Giselle—a ballet she knows all too well. She danced the role countless times as one of American Ballet Theatre's star ballerinas, and her mastery is evident in this clip of herself and Vladimir Malakhov in performance.

In the Act I scene, Kent captures her character's playfulness, vulnerability and youthful innocence, bringing a sweet and delicate touch to the choreography. Watch the nuances in her facial expression when she lets Albrecht take a seat next to her at 2:20, smiling in anticipation and nervousness as he gets closer, before shyly springing away at the last second. The two barely touch, but the chemistry between them is revealed. As Albrecht, Malakhov gives away his regal background in subtle movements, like the way he carries himself as he walks across the stage.

Malakhov has also dabbled in both dancing and directing: He was a principal at ABT, and directed Staatsballett Berlin until 2014. As for Kent, she’s already bringing her invaluable expertise to her new role. Check out this behind-the-scenes clip of rehearsal to glimpse what it was like in the studio as she coached TWB’s dancers:

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Pretto, as Esmeralda, with Matthew Poppe. Photo by Marcello Orselli, Courtesy Trockadero.

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.

 

Like when?

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.

 

Pretto as his alter ego, Nina Immobilashvili. Photo by Zoran Jelenic, Courtesy Trockadero.

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.

 

Pretto as himself. Photo by Zoran Jelenic, Courtesy Trocks.

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.

 

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Monica Mason in 1978. Photo by Anthony Crickmay via the Victoria and Albert Musuem.

Dame Monica Mason, The Royal Ballet’s former artistic director, has likely stood before a corps of white-tutu−clad dancers thousands of times. In this Giselle clip from a Bavarian State Ballet performance filmed in 1979, she leads the wilis not as their director, but as their queen. Though Mason is a natural Myrta, she offsets her undeniably commanding stage presence with softness. Shaping air with the fullness of her arms, swirling weightlessly in a torrent of tulle, Mason is the perfect reigning figure of her ghostly realm. (And a shout out to the corps and soloist dancers’ solid variations and pattern work!)

Mason directed The Royal from 2002−2012, but she’s been a figure in English ballet since 1958, when she received her company contract at 16 years old. From originating roles in Kenneth MacMillan’s ballets as a dancer to commissioning new choreographers as director (the name Wayne McGregor ring a bell?), Mason has helped shepherd The Royal into the contemporary era. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Mason in 2011. Photo by Johan Persson via ROH.

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