Written by Robyn Jutsum
What better way to celebrate the month of love than with the Romantic storybook ballet, Giselle!
Originally choreographed by Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli with music by Adolphe Adam, the version we are most familiar with today is actually based on a revival Marius Petipa created in St. Petersburg. It is also one of the first full-length ballets to be performed en pointe.
The ballet is a two-act ballet taking place in a small village along the Rhine (Act I) followed by a graveyard in the middle of the night (Act II).
The first Giselle was Carlotta Grisi, an Italian ballerina who rose to stardom mid-19th Century as a result of her performance in the ballet. The first performance took place in Paris at Theatre de l’Academie Royale de Musique on June 28th, 1841. Lucien Petipa performed the role of Albrecht, the main love interest of Giselle, and Adele Dumilatre danced Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. Grisi would later go on to dance as Giselle again at the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre in St. Petersburg.
The basic premise of the ballet follows the love story between Giselle, a young woman who is afflicted with a weak heart and a love of dance, and Albrecht, a count (or other courtier depending on interpretation) in disguise as a peasant. As with any good balletic love story, there’s of course another man vying for Giselle’s affections, Hilarion, the village huntsman/gamekeeper, to no avail.
Albrecht disguises himself as a peasant and convinces Giselle of his honest intentions, despite being betrothed to another.
A memorable scene in the first act is when Giselle picks a daisy playing the game “he loves me, he loves me not.” Her last petal lands on “He loves me not.” However, he is able to assuage her concerns and pledge his eternal love to her.
In Hilarion’s efforts to win over Giselle and in discovering Albrecht’s secret, he finds out that Albrecht is not who he says he is. This deception is revealed to the entire village with the arrival of Bathilde, Albrecht’s betrothed. She finds Giselle endearing and the two women bond, not realizing they are engaged to the same man. Hilarion, in a jealous rage, reveals Albrecht’s secret identity, causing Giselle to go into a dancing frenzy (the famous “mad scene”).
She goes mad at the betrayal and tragically collapses, having died from a broken heart.
Act II opens to reveal the grave of Giselle who is about to become a Wili. All the Wilis are the haunted spirits of women who passed on the eve of their weddings, betrayed by their loves.
Hilarion appears to mourn the loss of Giselle when Myrta, Queen of the Wilis, discovers him, calls the rest of the spirits, and they force him to dance until his death. Albrecht arrives to deliver flowers to Giselle’s grave, and a similar fate seemingly awaits him. However, Giselle, despite the betrayal, still loves him and protects him from the Wilis until Dawn. In doing so, she is also saved from becoming a Wili and is able to pass on, while Albrecht is forced to live with the consequences of his deception.
Fast Facts About Giselle
As the composer, Adolphe Adam used leitmotifs, little musical themes that coincide with different characters or moments in the plot. For example, the musical theme we hear in Act I while Giselle picks the petals of a flower returns later in the mad scene and then again in Act II. Although the music is not considered the most incredible music, it is certainly danceable, very sweet, and easy to dance to.
The original story was written by librettists, Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier. Coralli took advice from Gautier, who had suggested only the most beautiful girls dance as the Wilis.
The second act is often referred to as the “White Act” because the second act is mainly straight dance rather than driven fully by the plot.
Giselle, as a Romantic ballet, changed the landscape of how ballets would be cast and who the protagonist would be. One element of Romantic ballets is that the production centers around the women.
Another element of Romantic ballets such as Giselle is that there is not always, if ever, a truly happy ending. There was a shift from logic and reason in the creation of these works instead leaving a resounding fascination with the supernatural and otherworldly (i.e. the concept of a Wili).
The first American production of Giselle ran in Boston in 1864, and the first American to dance the role of Giselle was Mary Ann Lee, who had studied under Coralli at the Paris Opera Ballet.
Follow along with Total Body Barre instructor and Pro Dancer, Colby, as she guides you through a 30-second exercise for proper articulation of your foot and ankle in ballet! You'll need a counter or a chair for balance. Remember to practice on both sides and then join Colby for Total Body Barre Express on Fridays at Noon to put your foot articulation to work :)
Music Credit: Giselle (1996 Remastered Version) Terence Kern/London Ballet Festival Orchestra
Watch the video below for a 30-second tutorial on how to properly execute a Demi Plié taught by Ballet Spot Instructor, Marketing Manager, and Pro Dancer Robyn! The Demi Plié is the foundation of everything in ballet, so learning how to do it correctly will help to improve your overall understanding of ballet technique, as well as keep your knees and ankles healthy and happy :)
Music Credit: Tasmanian Symphony orchestra, conducted by Nicolette Fraillon, 2015 recording by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation of Adolphe Adam's Giselle Act 1 No. 3 Entrée de Giselle
Written by Tristan Grannum
Classical Ballet is an art form with foundational roots in Europe. Due to this, many ballet companies have lacked diversity and often only hired white dancers. On average, American ballet companies have less than 10% of its dancers being non-white dancers. As the ballet world has gradually progressed, so has the demographics of ballet companies and their dancers.
There are several reasons why many ballet companies have had a shortage of black dancers. One common misconception by ballet directors and ballet enthusiasts is that the black female body does not meet the classical look of a female ballet dancer. In the past, female dancers were often seen as tall, skinny, and lithe individuals. Black women were often scrutinized for their muscular legs and arms which did not resemble the standard look of a ballerina. Darker complexions were also frowned upon. To certain directors and choreographers, a dancer’s darker complexion amongst a corps of white dancers would ultimately stick out. To them this would affect the aesthetic of a corps de ballet (the members of a ballet company who dance together in an ensemble/group).
Lauren Anderson, a former principal dancer with the Houston Ballet and international star, is an individual who has reconstructed the stereotypes often placed on black female ballet dancers. Lauren Anderson was hired into Houston Ballet in 1983. Though this occurred post-civil rights movement, many people could not envision a black woman being a dancer with a major ballet company. While at Houston Ballet, she performed many iconic roles such as Firebird, Sugar Plum, and Kitri which were all roles initially choreographed/suited for white dancers. Her performances gathered a new audience who sought to experience her incredible talent. In 1990, she was promoted to the principal dancer rank (highest position) at Houston Ballet. She created history being the first black dancer to achieve such a rank with a major ballet company. Her promotion prompted Houston Ballet to hire more dancers of various backgrounds to directly reflect the diversity of the Houston community. The racial change in Houston Ballet ultimately propelled other company directors to follow suit in hiring black dancers.
Lack of representation and access to classical art forms have been the major causes for the absence of black male dancers in classical ballet. Eric Underwood is black male ballet dancer who prevailed despite these adversities. Eric Underwood grew up in Baltimore, Maryland initially being involved in sports. It wasn’t until the age of 14, that he started taking ballet classes. Fast forward to 2003 he joined American Ballet Theater, then in 2006 he joined the Royal Ballet of London. Many world-renowned choreographers sought to work and choreograph ballets on him because of his unique artistry, incredible physique and proficient partnering skills. In an article Eric Underwood, (former soloist with the Royal Ballet) doesn’t blame directors for the lack of diversity in ballet companies but blames the social economic status and lack of exposure to young black kids as the primary reason. Eric Underwood is a leader in Royal Ballet’s Chance to dance initiative, which brings classical ballet to impoverished communities in England. Eric Underwood’s presence on stage is the representation needed to inspire a new generation of male dancers.
Misty Copeland’s career has pushed diversity in ballet exponentially due to her mainstream appeal. Misty Copeland is a black ballerina who rose to principal rank in 2015 at American Ballet Theatre. She is the first black female to receive this promotion. Her historic promotion garnished a new widely diverse audience into the seats of Lincoln center. Due to her achievements, many news organizations, magazines, and media outlets covered her inspirational story and followed her journey as a leading ballerina at ABT. In her interviews, she discussed the struggles and obstacles she often faced as a black ballet dancer. She presented a message of hope to young black dancers who wanted to pursue a career in ballet. Misty Copeland is widely considered as a celebrity. Her career has tied classical ballet and mainstream entertainment. She has danced for Prince and Mariah Carey, has several fashionwear partnerships, and has been featured in numerous advertisements, commercials and movies. Her fame has brought attention to classical ballet from unlikely supporters and her message has altered the navigation of the classical ballet world.
The careers of Lauren Anderson, Eric Underwood, and Misty Copeland are monumental to the progression of classical ballet. Lauren Anderson reconstructed the stereotypes often associated with black female dancers. Eric Underwood is shortening the gap between students of color who are economically challenged and the classical ballet world. Misty Copeland is shedding light on the retrogression of classical ballet culture and ultimately assisting in creating new norms in the art form. The ballet world still has to make great strides in regards to diversity and inclusion, however, currently it is on the correct path toward a new era of dance.
Eric Underwood: 'i Want To Be a Great Dancer Regardless Of My Colour'
Stephanie Rafanelli - https://www.standard.co.uk/es-magazine/royal-opera-house-ballet-star-eric-underwood-i-want-to-be-a-great-dancer-regardless-of-my-colour-a3091036.html
Naomi Blumberg - https://www.britannica.com/biography/Misty-Copeland
Meet Lauren Anderson: The First African-american Principal For the Houston Ballet
Symone Daniels - https://thesource.com/2019/02/26/meet-lauren-anderson-the-first-african-american-principal-for-the-houston-ballet/
Follow along with Strength & Stretch and Ballet for Toddlers instructor and pro dancer Ali, as she leads you through the Toe Hook Twister - an exercise for balance, stability and flexibility. She will offer modifications so everyone can benefit from this exercise, no matter your level!
Watch the video below to follow along with Liz, our Stretch and Ballet Breathe & Flow instructor, as well as a professional dancer, as she guides you through a brief Seated C Stretch. This brief but powerful movement will improve your posture and torso flexibility and strength.
It only takes a moment, so you can do it anywhere, anytime!
Follow along with Ballet and Barre instructor and pro dancer, Christine, as she guides you through "Superhuman" an excellent move for strengthening your entire core! She will also offer modifications so you can work your way up to the full range of motion.
Watch the video below to learn how to hold your hands in ballet! Sometimes it's the things that appear to be the easiest that are the most challenging :)
Written by Robyn Jutsum
As we welcome a new year and aspire to a better, more unified, more peaceful road ahead, we are pleased to focus our attention on January’s theme, George Balanchine’s Serenade! We are thoroughly enjoying dancing through the month with our Serenade-inspired cardio ballet combos.
If you are interested in participating in this month’s virtual performance, be sure to join Jennifer for her classes on Mondays and Saturdays to learn her combo, check out our IGTV on Instagram featuring Jennifer’s breakdown, and/or sign up for our *free* dress rehearsal on Zoom on Sunday, January 24th (sign up as you would for class).
This month we will be featuring Deepa’s combo for Ballet for a Cause on Friday, January 22nd. All proceeds will go to the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. Learn more about Ballet for a Cause here. We are also looking forward to this month’s *free* Sips and Clips (sign up like you would for class) where we will take a look at its history and watch clips of the ballet.
Deemed a “milestone in dance history” by the George Balanchine Trust, Balanchine’s Serenade was his first original full-length ballet in the United States and is a recognized favorite in New York City Ballet’s repertoire. Premiering in June of 1934, Serenade was initially set on students at the School of American Ballet as a lesson in stage and rehearsal technique and etiquette.
Serenade is considered not only a hallmark of Balanchine’s choreographic resume but also a cornerstone of the Balanchine style of training and movement quality.
Toni Bentley noted Balanchine’s influence in a reflection piece on the ballet for the Wall Street Journal. In 2010, Bentley wrote, “He brought a kind of democracy into the hierarchical land of ballet classicism, lifting it from its dusty 19th-century splendor, and created, simultaneously, an aristocracy for American dancers who had none.”
Edwin Denby, an American dance critic, poet, and novelist of the 20th century, described the inception and delivery of this concept:
“The thrill of Serenade depends on the sweetness of the bond between all the young dancers. The dancing and the behavior are as exact as in a strict ballet class. The bond is made by the music, by the hereditary classic steps, and by a collective look, the dancers in action have unconsciously – their American young look. That local look had never before been used as a dramatic effect in classic ballet.”
Because the ballet was created early on in Balanchine’s choreographic reign, viewing American dancers performing choreography designed for them was a relatively new concept stateside.
Serenade was first performed by a professional company, the American Ballet, the following spring in March 1935 at the Adelphi Theater in New York.
Set to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48, the ballet is performed by dancers in blue against a blue background. The original set was designed by Gaston Longchamp, however, from 1941 on, it has been performed without scenery, only a blue backdrop. It is divided into four parts: Sonatina, Waltz, Russian Dance, and Elegy. As marked in New York City Ballet’s notes and credits, the piece ends on a melancholy note, with the last two movements danced to Tchaikovsky’s score in reverse order.
Although technically a plotless ballet, Balanchine himself wrote of the influence Tchaikovsky’s music has on the journey of his movement. He writes,
“Because Tchaikovsky’s score, though it was not composed for the ballet, has in its danceable four movements different qualities suggestive of different emotions and human situations, parts of the ballet seem to have a story: the apparently ‘pure’ dance takes on a kind of plot. But this plot, inherent in the score, contains many stories – it is many things to many listeners to the music, and many things to many people who see the ballet.” (“New Complete Stories of the Great Ballets,” 1968)
The Ballet, over time, has evolved. The original version did not have the four distinct movements. At one point, a pas de deux was put in. The costumes, the number of dancers on stage, and the number of sections have all been privy to alterations. As Joan Acocella writes for The New Yorker in “A Discussion on George Balanchine’s Serenade,”
“It is a story about hope. If you are young and don’t know anything or have anything, you can change that. If you aren’t beautiful, you can become beautiful.”
“New Stories of the Great Ballets” (1968) - George Balanchine
“The 101 Stories of the Great Ballets” (1975) - George Balanchine
“Apollo’s Angels” (2010) - Jennifer Homans
"The Swan" from Pilates Mat with variations for extra focus on upper back and arm strength and flexibility: