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!
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.
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 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:
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.
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!
With his new production of Giselle, Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch continues his charge through history, updating the classical warhorses for modern audiences. He has already completed versions of Paquita, La Bayadère and, most recently, 2015’s Romeo and Juliet, which he restructured to closely follow the play.
Giselle, which premiered June 9, is deeply connected to Houston Ballet’s history. In 1967, the Houston Ballet Foundation, which was a school and pre-professional company, brought in Carla Fracci and Erik Bruhn as guest artists for a production of Giselle. The enthusiasm that followed their performance helped launch Houston Ballet.
When Welch tackles the classics, he strives to create the narrative cohesion that is sometimes lacking in earlier versions. In Giselle, he plans to bring back sections of the music that have been cut from most productions, and tie the first and second acts together by giving the gorgeous but sinister clan of Wilis an earlier, eerie presence. “We’ll see the Wilis in the first act, through a window in one of the town homes, a foreshadowing of the second act,” says Welch. “It is a ghost story.” —Nancy Wozny
If you’ve ever visited a Louisiana bayou at night, with the thick fog and eerie swamp waters, the idea of Wilis floating through the reeds might not surprise you. Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Creole Giselle transplants the Romantic era ballet from Europe to the antebellum South. In this clip from a 1987 film, Virginia Johnson—former principal dancer and current artistic director of DTH—dances the title role. In the Act I variation, she pairs crisp, solid footwork, full of sailing turns and effortless balances, with soft arms and careful transitions. In some interpretations, Giselle’s love for Albrecht and for dancing is exuberant bordering on foolish: You feel for the character in her heartbreak, but it’s hard to be surprised. Johnson’s joy is steadier, more grounded in reality. I think this makes us feel her subsequent tragedy even more keenly.
Creole Giselle, staged by dance luminary Frederic Franklin, won a Laurence Olivier Award in 1984. Johnson’s contributions to the dance world are equally notable. She was a founding member of DTH under artistic director Arthur Mitchell and—another reason why we love her—she served as Pointe’s founding editor-in-chief from 2000-2009. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
During the Cold War, Alicia Alonso was one of the first Western dancers to be invited to perform in the Soviet Union—where she danced Giselle, her signature role, in this 1958 clip. It’s not just her precise, sprightly footwork or her fluid, emotive arms that make her portrayal of Giselle so enchanting. Nor is it merely her acting, which successfully evokes a girl vacillating between reticence one moment and readiness the next in her lover’s company. Every ballerina must have these qualities, but Alonso has something more. Take the moment in Giselle’s variation after the hops on pointe. Even with talented dance actresses, the steps transitioning back upstage for the final pirouettes can seem like just that, a transition. Not so with Alonso. She leans off balance in a coupé, swings into a sauté and, in a joyous flurry, rushes to the corner. The heart she puts into the simplest steps goes beyond acting; Alonso shows us that this, indeed, is a girl whose passion is so great it could kill her.
At 94 years old, Alonso still leads the National Ballet of Cuba, which she founded in 1948. By documenting the lives of two of her students, the 2015 film Horizontes (watch the trailer here) tells the story of Alonso’s legacy—which is still in the making. Her distinctly Cuban staging of Giselle for Ballet Silicon Valley opens tomorrow. Happy #TBT!