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Mood swing

The emotional gamut of Festival Ballet’s  Giselle
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  October 22, 2008

HAPPY, SAD: Giselle expressing the former.

Young dance students dream of portraying her. Ballerinas around the world have placed their mark on her. Audiences weep for her. She is Giselle, the innocent peasant girl of Adolph Adam’s 1841 ballet, and she’ll come to the VMA Arts & Cultural Center once again via Festival Ballet Providence (October 24-26).

In the story, Giselle is a fragile young girl who loves to dance despite her mother’s warnings about her weak heart. When she meets the disguised nobleman Albrecht at her village’s wine festival, they dance together and fall in love (always instantaneous in such folk tales). Shortly thereafter, Giselle learns that the duke’s daughter Bathilde is already betrothed to Albrecht. She goes mad and dies.

Second act: Giselle has joined the netherworld of the Wilis, young women who were jilted before marriage and who are driven by their queen, Myrtha, to lure passersby to their deaths. When Giselle is commanded to this task for Albrecht, who has come to mourn at her grave, she defies Myrtha and keeps him alive until sunrise, when the Wilis’ power fades away.

The melodramatic possibilities are obvious, but Festival’s artistic director, Mihailo (“Misha”) Djuric, is intent on making the characters’ feelings in the story connect to audiences, especially Giselle’s forgiveness for Albrecht’s betrayal of her. He also likes to point out that this ballet was one of the first to feature a strong emotional role for a male character.

Djuric created the choreography, drawing on Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, Marius Petipa, Leonid Lavrovski, and Festival’s ballet mistress Milica Bijelic, who has performed the role more than 50 times. Giselle incorporates company members (from several different countries), character dancers, apprentices, and junior company members in a cast of more than 40.

And, of course, the principal roles of Albrecht and Giselle are key. Djuric has double-cast them with Alexander Akulov and Vilia Putrius as one pair, and Mindaugas Bauzys and Jennifer Ricci as the other. Coming in at the end of a rehearsal of the latter two, I nonetheless sat down with Putrius and Bauzys, who are paired in real life, and Djuric, to discuss the upcoming performances. Bauzys and Putrius both received their early training in Lithuania and have danced with Boston Ballet. Putrius joined Festival in 2006; Bauzys just this season.

Putrius and Ricci alternate the roles of Giselle and Myrtha, and Putrius emphasized that they are both difficult, though in different ways: “To make a character is hard. I’m try-ing to be what I would do myself, how I would react, if it happened to me. The most challenging is when, as Myrtha, I have to say to Albrecht: ‘Die!’ ”

“I give the bones of the characters to the dancers,” Djuric put in, with a sly smile, “but each of them gives the meat.”

“You have to be truthful to yourself — we all grow with our own experiences,” Bauzys reflected. “It’s not as much about the dancing as to live that character and make every-one around you believe it. It’s not just doing the steps. You need to act every second that you’re on stage.”

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