Probably a pedestrian question, but is the ballet Giselle where we get the phrase gives me the willies? Or at least are the willis in Giselle the same willies we’re sometimes given? In last night’s production of Giselle, put on by Oregon Ballet Theatre, the willis [specifically the spirits of women jilted before their wedding day, who rise from their graves to seek revenge upon men by dancing them to death] were something beautiful - ballerinas in white floating en pointe through the muted shadows of the graveyard. Like death is something soft and lovely. Delicate. As they made their first appearance as a group onstage, the willis were shrouded in white veils, which added a delicious creep effect to that lovely. Then Giselle herself appeared at the mouth of her crypt, and the moment that her own white veil was yanked away, I gave a little gasp of appreciation in my seat and embarrassed myself.
When we first arrived and found our seats, Stephen said it was so refreshing - surprising - to be seeing a completely classical production of ballet. "It's not a language people know anymore," he said. "Or at least that they expect." The expectation of the modern arts is innovation, reinvention. Taking Swan Lake and relocating it to the 1950s Jersey Turnpike. But classical ballet is a beautiful language, to me a perfect language, and forgive me for sounding overzealous, but it's sumptuous to be steeped in its particularness.
[our principals for the evening, haiyan wu and chauncey parsons. interestingly, in this production there will be different sets of principals throughout the run.]
Oregon Ballet Theater did right by that classical language. It was a lovely production, with beautiful sets and costumes shipped in from Italy, all soft colors. Beautiful choreography and dancing. I was interested to read that Giselle originated only about a decade after the technique of dancing en pointe was introduced, and there are moments in the ballet where the technique is used to quite a spectacular effect, both in group numbers and in solos. Some fantastic moments in solos. And of course you also get willis dancing in a graveyard and new love and death and madness.
Giselle goes mad like a tiger in a circus ring. Or at least that was what came to my mind. The way she danced into madness in a wide loop around the stage took me to a moment during my lighting director days when I watched the rehearsal of a very new tiger act, and in a leap over the trainer, the tiger took off low and completely plowed into her. As the trainer collapsed on the floor, the panicked tiger did the only thing a panicked tiger can do in the big cage - run in circles and circles and circles. Giselle had tiger grace and tiger panic as she danced her circles, sometimes skirting the arc of dancers who stood watching like the bars of the big cage, sometimes slamming through and scattering them. I was so caught up in the beauty of the ballet that the fun fiendishness of this drama, which closed the first half, took me by surprise.
Lovely evening. Giselle is playing at the Keller Auditorium and runs through March 3rd.