By Sondra Erwin
“Giselle” was first performed in Paris in 1841 by Ballet du Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique. The story revolves around the life of a peasant girl named Giselle, who falls in love with an aristocratic man, Albrecht, who is betrothed to another. After learning that her love is one sided, she dies of a broken heart. In the second act, a group of ghostly women who dance men to death summon Giselle to target her lover. However, Giselle’s love for Albrecht frees him from the grasp of the supernatural women.
In the Milwaukee Ballet’s rendition of this classic tale, the story takes place in a Warsaw Ghetto in the 1940s. Giselle falls in love with a German soldier, who disguises himself as a civilian to win her affections. Albrecht is actually engaged to an upper class woman, and when Giselle learns of this, she dies of heartache. The supernatural women are the community in which Giselle lives as they are killed by German soldiers. The townspeople try to enact revenge on Giselle’s lover, but her ability to forgive removes him from their hatred.
Carroll’s very own Dr. James Zager helped with the production of the ballet. He was in charge of the characterization of the dancer’s characters. “We started with a dramaturgical presentation on the conditions in the internment camps in Germany during WWII, and then, I worked with the corps de ballet to develop back stories for all of their characters so that they could interact with each other in a more realistic way during the non-dancing scenes.” Furthermore, he stated that he “…helped the young company dancers playing the soldiers to look more powerful and imposing by being more relaxed and confident with their guns.” I also coached the principals on their gestural language to make it more realistic and less like a pantomime,” stated Zager.
Because Milwaukee Ballet director Michael Pink adapted the ballet to be more like a play, Zager had to work hard to make sure the dancers could act as well. “Since there is no spoken dialogue, the story must be told visually through gesture and body positioning. You can’t say ‘I will kill you if you take another step’ – you must show it through strong, but subtle movements,” explained Zager. The dancers themselves were very open to trying anything Zager threw at them. “They were supportive and appreciative of my efforts throughout,” stated Zager.
This performance of “Giselle” captivated the audience because of the fast moving plot and minimal characters. Within the first few minutes of the ballet, it is easy for the audience to grasp the dynamics of the characters and community. The second act contrasts with the first in that it does not contain a lot of plot development. It makes up for that in emotion and breath-taking dance sequences.
Upcoming productions for the Milwaukee Ballet include “Cinderella” in May and “Dracula” in October. Zager will help with the Spring 2016 production of “Dorian Grey”, where he will be performing the speaking role of Lord Henry Wotton.