8 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Oklahoma City Ballet
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker
Having debuted in Paris in 1841, “Giselle” has since become among the most celebrated ballets of all time, due in part because its original choreography has been preserved for more than a century with very few changes.
Furthermore, the ballet’s title role is considered by many to be the one of the most challenging.
“Giselle” is primarily a story of forgiveness, centered on the frail, young village girl for whom the ballet is named, and her courtship with a duke named Albrecht. The ballet begins happily in the small Rhineland village, but tragedy strikes, setting a much darker tone for a second act dominated by a vengeful group of spirits called the Wilis, all of whom were scorned by men in life.
To fill the iconic lead roles of Giselle and Albrecht, OKC Ballet has brought in two dancers from the prestigious Boston Ballet, Misa Kuranaga and James Whiteside. Artistic Director Robert Mills said that bringing in guest artists serves two purposes.
“It adds an extra added attraction for our audience and gives them the opportunity to see two world-class artists right here in Oklahoma City without traveling,” he said. “Our own company of dancers will have the opportunity to meet and work alongside them and learn from them as well.”
He said the leads were chosen for their technique and beauty onstage.
“It was a natural choice, since Boston Ballet produced its own production of ‘Giselle’ last October, in which Misa and James danced the same roles, so I knew that it would be fresh in their bodies and memory,” Mills said.
He noted the role of Giselle, portrayed by the award-winning and internationally in-demand Kuranag, is held in such high regard because of its unique demand of technical and dramatic performance, as personified in a scene in the first act where Giselle goes “mad,” known in the ballet world simply as “the mad scene.”
“Many a ballerina is judged on her performance by her portrayal of this very scene,” he said. “Very few ballets allow for this depth of acting to be intertwined with the dance.”
Giselle’s overall emotional arc requires a ballerina to portray a full range of emotions, Mills said, ranging from naivety to distress and madness, and finally to death and forgiveness.
Unlike many other classical composers, France’s Adolphe Adam is best known for his ballet scores. Like the choreography itself, his score has remained largely unchanged, which Mills said is because “it perfectly embodies the story and emotions of the piece. It underscores everything from the joyous dances of the earthy villagers in the first act, to the poetic love still shared between Giselle and Albrecht in the second.”
In a time when many ballet companies are altering or modernizing classic works, Mills said that because “Giselle” has not been performed in its entirety in OKC for 20 years, he made sure the company stuck as close to the original as possible.
With the OKC Philharmonic performing the John Lanchbury arrangement of Adams’ score from American Ballet Theater in New York City, two impressive guest artists, and the hard work of OKC Ballet, Mills believes that this is the first truly world-class production mounted by the two-year-old company.
Prior to Friday’s 8 p.m. opening, OKC Ballet will present a 30-minute lecture on the history of “Giselle” in the south lobby of the Civic Center Music Hall. The lecture will be led by dance critic and historian Camille Hardy, from the University of Oklahoma’s Dance Department. “Eric Webb | Photo by Mark Hancock