Giselle Q&A with Devon Carney

GISELLE Q&A with Devon Carney

Can you tell us a little bit about the ballet Giselle?
Giselle premiered in 1841 and it’s known as the greatest romantic-era ballet. I love the story: a young girl falls in love with a man who isn’t who he says he is. He misrepresents himself and breaks her heart. And then there is a metamorphosis within him: by getting to know Giselle, his heart changes.

What’s different from the last time you presented the choreography, in 2006?
Nothing is changing. I want to preserve everything. Although it’s a 168-year-old ballet, it seems to have weathered time. I don’t think it would be fair, if we are going to present a traditional Giselle, to alter the choreography too much. If we don’t preserve and present this important work, who will? Changing Giselle would be like an opera performing La Traviata and changing the musical notes or the libretto.

What has been your past experience with productions of Giselle?
I grew up with a version of Giselle that I loved: Freddie Franklin’s. There’s definitely a Franklin connection to my Giselle – and it’s appropriate that I came to Cincinnati Ballet, where Franklin is Artistic Director Emeritus. I’m very inspired by his work and his dedication to our art form.

Giselle features a love triangle between Giselle, Albrecht and Hilarion. How important are the story’s characters?
The most important thing in choreographing a classic ballet like Giselle is that the storyline stays consistent and that the characters have three-dimensionality. I’ve seen “flat” versions of Giselle, where Hilarion (the peasant whose love for Giselle is unrequited) is represented as one-dimensional: angry and brutish all the time. But Hilarion takes care of Giselle and her family. He has real feelings for Giselle, and brings her family flowers and game he hunted. But then she falls for this handsome stranger, Albrecht. I have great compassion for Hilarion. He’s actually a good guy who sadly gets caught up in this unfortunate situation.

I like Albrecht, too. He starts off as a jerk, but in the end he risks his own life to say goodbye to Giselle, knowing the risks of entering the graveyard of the Wilis. This is his moment of transformation.

Giselle experiences incredible maturity, too, that needs to happen. The ballet starts with her as a naïve, happy young girl. When things get difficult for her, when she discovers Albrecht’s deceit, she goes mad. And this is a scene that can make or break a production of Gislle. The question is, Can you do it? Can you make it believable? As choreographer, it falls to me to make that mad scene happen with the dancer as actress.

And the peasants – performed by the dancer corps – are the amplification of the madness that is happening to the character. The dimension and depth required – you can’t do it without the corps.

What about Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis?
Myrtha is another “ghostly virgin.” Like the other Wilis, Myrtha died before marriage, and is a jilted lover. Maybe she’s the first Wili. Her story is a mystery.

Myrtha is cold. She has no heart and no mercy. She provides a foil for Giselle’s character. It’s what makes Giselle so different – she has a heart in the afterlife. The other Wilis are beautiful, ethereal creatures, but they have a dark side: their instinct is to kill any man they see. In fact, when Hilarion goes to visit Giselle’s grave, they force him to dance to his death. It’s a gruesome, intense scene. It’s crucial for the Wilis to portray this ruthlessness accurately, because that allows Giselle’s act of forgiveness to come across.

How are you portraying the mad scene?
Giselle starts out the scene believing she’s engaged to the new guy. Then she’s confronted with this cruel, cold reality that he’s actually engaged to a woman of nobility. And she confronts Albrecht, who repells her because at this point, money is talking to him. He doesn’t actually love his original fiancée. Giselle has a weak heart already. This reality throws her into a strange, dark place. She goes into a fantasy world, where she thinks everything is OK. Reality tilts, goes askew. It’s a slow process at the end of which she dies of a broken heart.