Ballet Stars

#TBT: Martine van Hamel in “Giselle” (1977)

Martine van Hamel as Myrtha in "Giselle," via YouTube

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.



Van Hamel's approach to Myrtha is not severe, but rather deliberate and assured; she creates the character in the way she moves through space rather than through expressions or gestures. When she enters at 3:12, she creates the illusion of floating, her feet fluttering while she holds the rest of her body perfectly still. Throughout the variation, power emanates from her lifted and expansive décoletté. She moves without any hard edges, continuously radiating energy after she makes a position. Although Myrtha soon reveals her brutal tactics, van Hamel creates a being with a nobility worthy of audiences' empathy through this first solo. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

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