This story originally appeared in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of Pointe.
This year my company is performing Giselle and I can't seem to capture the romantic style of the ballet. Do you have any pointers? —Amber
One of the hallmarks of Giselle is its unmistakable style, and I think it's wonderful that you're concerned with getting it right. The Wilis, in particular, are characterized by their lower port de bras and the downcast, forward tilt of their bodies—there's a contained quality that's quite different from the expansive movement and higher carriage of the arms that's common today. Avoid breaking the elbows or wrists excessively as you transition through first, or crossing your arms as you raise them to fifth. And keep in mind that the movements should appear soft, not wilted. You need strong core and back muscles to hold your torso at a slight angle, and your port de bras should continue to initiate from the shoulder blades.
Also, remember that behind the choreography lies dramatic intent. You're not just a dancer in the corps—as a Wili, you inhabit the supernatural world. You're the coldly vengeful spirit of a broken-hearted woman, which explains the downcast tilt of the body and ghostlike quality of the arms. Thinking about your characterization will help clarify your movements.
Take some time to study DVDs of famous productions of Giselle—carefully watch how the dancers move and take note of how that differs from what you're doing. In addition, ask your ballet mistress to observe you and make suggestions.
Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor in chief and former dancer Amy Brandt at firstname.lastname@example.org.