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Bolshoi Ballet principals Olga Smirnova and Artemy Belyakov in Alexei Ratmansky's production of Giselle. Damir Yusupov, Courtesy of Bolshoi Theatre.

Bolshoi fans, listen up: On Sunday, January 26, the company will broadcast Alexei Ratmansky's new production of Giselle—captured from a live performance in Moscow earlier that day—to over 450 North American movie theaters as part of its Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema season. Olga Smirnova and Artemy Belyakov will star as Giselle and Albrecht, along with Angelina Vlashinets as Myrtha and Denis Savin as Hans, the Gatekeeper.

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Ballet Stars
Houston Ballet's Yuriko Kajiya and Connor Walsh in Stanton Welch's Giselle. Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

Houston Ballet principal Yuriko Kajiya wowed audiences in her first go in Stanton Welch's Giselle in 2016. But her performance at the company's season opener this September revealed even deeper levels of meaning. All boundless joy and bounce as the smitten village girl (her Albrecht was played by Connor Walsh), Kajiya radiated pure innocence until the mad scene. Her fits and starts took on an unpredictable and macabre essence, which was both thrilling and a presage for what was to come.

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Ballet Training

Argentinian ballerina Paloma Herrera, who is now the artistic director of Ballet Estable del Teatro Colón in her home country, joined American Ballet Theatre at just 16 years old and was promoted to principal at 19. Over the course of her 24-year career with ABT, she became known for her maturity and range as an artist. Still, ingenue roles remained one of her hallmarks due to her ability to portray youth with honesty. She even danced Giselle for her ABT retirement performance. In this clip highlighting the first act variation in Giselle, she conveys the character's innocence with unaffected sincerity.

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Ballet Stars
Courtesy Joshua Beamish/MOVETHECOMPANY

Imagine this scenario: Hilarion likes Giselle, but she swipes right on Albrecht, and is smitten. Little does she know, Albrecht is already involved with Bathilde. When Giselle finds out, she livestreams her downward spiral (perhaps her hair even comes down in the midst of her heartbreak?), and enters a realm of women who've similarly been ghosted, or otherwise spurned by online relationships.

This is the basic premise of Joshua Beamish's new @giselle. Created for his troupe Joshua Beamish/MOVETHECOMPANY, the ballet will have its world premiere September 5-7 at the Vancouver Playhouse in British Columbia. For @giselle, which stars American Ballet Theatre soloist Catherine Hurlin and National Ballet of Canada principal Harrison James, Beamish has dug deep into the plot of the original ballet, adapting it for the digital age and showing the pitfalls of changing relationship norms.

We touched base with Beamish to hear all about this new project, from his cleverly modern Wilis to his favorite parts of Adolphe Adam's original score.

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News
English National Ballet in Akram Khan's "Giselle." Laurent Liotardo, Courtesy ENB.

This week (Feb 28-Mar. 2), English National Ballet brings Akram Khan's widely acclaimed Giselle to Chicago's Harris Theater, the company's first U.S. appearance in 30 years. Commissioned by ENB artistic director Tamara Rojo, Khan, whose work combines contemporary dance and Indian kathak, takes a revisionist approach to the classic story, replacing peasants and aristocrats with migrant factory workers and wealthy landlords. The ballet's look and sound have also been reinterpreted, with music by Vincenzo Lamagna (adapted from Adolphe Adam's original score), sets and costumes by Academy Award-winner Tim Yip and lighting design by Tony-award winner Mark Henderson.

Pointe spoke with Rojo to learn more about why she wanted to modernize one of ballet's best-loved classics—and why the risk was worth it.

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Ballet Stars
Powers with William Newton in Edwaard Liang's Giselle. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy BalletMet.

While its minimalist costuming and sets gave Edwaard Liang's new Giselle for BalletMet a nontraditional look last February, there was nothing spartan about Grace-Anne Powers' performance in the title role. Powers' radiant smile, warmth and happy disposition made Giselle's betrayal by Albrecht (danced by William Newton), and her subsequent death of a broken heart, a real tearjerker. She had you believing that an entire village could, indeed, love her.

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Ballet Stars
Ballet Nacional de Cuba's corps de ballet performs Giselle's famous arabesque chugs. Photo by Carlos Quezada, Courtesy The Kennedy Center.

During the Ballet Nacional de Cuba's tour to Washington, DC's Kennedy Center earlier this year, the company brought longtime artistic director Alicia Alonso's Giselle. And while the production was admittedly well-worn and the style of dancing old-fashioned, the dancers rose to the occasion, led sensitively by longtime BNC star Viengsay Valdés in the title role.

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Viral Videos

The final moments of Giselle's second act are some of the most hauntingly beautiful in all of ballet: from the pas de deux between Giselle's betrayed spirit and the man she still loves, to the wilis' cold rejection, to Albrecht's heart-wrenching desperation as the curtain closes. The Bolshoi Ballet's late prima ballerina assoluta, Galina Ulanova, is among the most legendary interpreters of the ballet's titular role, admired around the world for her ability to utterly transform into character. Alongside her frequent partner Nikolai Fadeyechev, also a former leading dancer with the Bolshoi, their performance is an offering of sensitivity that stirs us even decades later.

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Katherine Williams as Myrtha. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.

With a large exhale, Katherine Williams steps into a series of arabesque chugs, as if the force of her breath is propelling her forward. "Big step out, big," coaxes ballet mistress Irina Kolpakova, watching from the front of a small studio at American Ballet Theatre in May. It's a big step indeed for Williams—after 10 years in the corps de ballet, the 29-year-old is preparing for her debut as Myrtha in ABT's production of Giselle, her very first principal role. One month after the premiere, Williams was promoted to soloist.

"Myrtha is the hardest thing I've ever done," Williams admits. "By the end you feel like you're going to throw up. I was using my breath as much as I could to help me get through it."

While Williams is tall and a natural jumper, she was surprised when artistic director Kevin McKenzie cast her in such a fierce and powerful role. "Generally they give me the happy peasant girl, something softer," she says. "I think it was a leap of faith for Kevin to allow me to embrace a totally different side of myself."

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Ballet Stars

The story of Giselle has emotional power in the way it blurs the lines between good and evil. Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, is often considered the villainess, but her character is far more complex than the bad guys in most ballets. A wounded spirit determined to protect her companions the only way she knows how, Myrtha is ethereal, yet ruthless. Every ballerina must meet the challenge of the role in her own way. Martine van Hamel, a former American Ballet Theatre principal, brings the opposing forces of Myrtha's nature into harmonious balance in this 1977 clip.


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Viral Videos

In the late 1950s and 60s, Italian ballerina Carla Fracci won the world over with her definitive interpretations of romantic ballets like La Sylphide, La Sonnambula, and, of course, Giselle. At just 22 years old, she left her home stage at La Scala in Milan to begin guesting internationally, eventually forming a famous partnership with the dashing danseur Erik Bruhn at American Ballet Theatre. The two appear together in this film of ABT's Giselle, in which Fracci's Act I variation is as near to perfection as any Giselle before or after.

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Ballet Stars
Sadaise Arencibía as Giselle. Photo by Quinn Wharton.

Grettel Morejón and Sadaise Arencibía, principal ballerinas with the National Ballet of Cuba, danced the title role of Giselle in the company's performances on June 6 and 8 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York. SPAC was the final stop on a U.S. tour that took the company to Tampa, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Morejón's was an intimate, caring, and protective Giselle, placing complete confidence in Albrecht before he becomes her deepest disappointment; Arencibía's was a spectral capture, as present as the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, but also the vigilantly mad witness to her own downfall. To say that both interpretations are as distinctive as they are mesmerizing might sound like a false equivalency. Yet, Morejón and Arencibía demonstrate that two vastly different articulations can wax both genuine and stunning, with the same steps to the very same music.

I knocked on their shared dressing room door at SPAC last week, and the welcome from each was as warm as their enthusiastic and forthcoming responses to my questions.

Has the role of Giselle changed over the years since Alicia Alonso created it for the Cuban National Ballet? If so, how?

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