As everyone knows, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, or in modern lexicon: If you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it. The righteous anger of women misled in love is one of the most primal and enduring stories, and it makes for great drama.
Next Wednesday night at the Granada Theatre, the Royal New Zealand Ballet will present its rendition of Giselle, one of the oldest surviving ballets and one that takes unrequited love as its subject. First staged in Paris in 1841, Giselle is among the most famous of the romantic ballets, identifiable by the long, white tutus worn by the corps de ballet, as well as for the lyrical weightlessness achieved through technically demanding jumps and long passages of dancing en pointe.
The ballet tells the story of Giselle, a young peasant woman who falls in love with Albrecht, a count. In order to woo her, Albrecht hides his true identity, only to break her heart when he weds another. Giselle dies of despair, whereupon the ghostly spirits of abandoned brides — known as the Wilis — rise up out of the forest to avenge her.
Royal New Zealand Ballet’s artistic director Ethan Stiefel, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, has joined forces with Johan Kobborg of the Royal Danish Ballet to restage Giselle for modern audiences. Both men have performed the role of Albrecht many times in their own careers; as choreographers, their approach has been to stick closely to tradition.
“We felt that if it wasn’t broken, we shouldn’t fix it,” Stiefel explained in a recent phone interview. “We’ve kept the familiar and celebrated passages, but we’ve also added a lot of new material to sections like the peasant dances, which now have some real sophistication in them. We feel we have honored a great production.”
Dancing the role of Albrecht in this production is Qi Huan; prima ballerina Gillian Murphy will play Giselle. These two danced the same roles in last year’s feature film of the production.
According to Stiefel, Murphy brings “honesty, femininity, and purity of performance” to her role, in addition to world-class technical ability. He may be biased; Murphy is also his wife. “She has Giselle’s qualities of generosity and forgiveness — all of those wonderful characteristics are inherent in her being,” he said.
In addition to Royal New Zealand Ballet’s cast of 36, a handful of extras from the Santa Barbara dance community will appear onstage.
In terms of scenic design and costuming, Stiefel describes this production as “clean and vibrant.”
“We didn’t want to allow the dance to be overwhelmed by the sets and costumes,” he explained. “We’ve gone for clear, clean sophistication, so that the choreography, the staging, and the design speak the same language.”
Ultimately, Stiefel hopes his modestly updated production conveys the haunting passion of this classic love story, capturing the warning of the Wilis: Love unrequited is a terrible thing indeed.
Or as Beyoncé would put it: “Pull me into your arms / Say I’m the one you want / If you don’t, you’ll be alone / And like a ghost I’ll be gone.”
UCSB Arts & Lectures brings the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s production of Giselle to the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.) on Wednesday, February 5, at 8 p.m. For tickets, call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu. The company will offer a community master class on Tuesday, February 4, at 5:30 p.m. at Gustafson School of Dance (2285 Las Positas Rd.). For reservations, call (805) 966-6950.