While I was watching dress rehearsal for the Eugene Ballet Company‘s 37th-season-opener Giselle, staff at the Starlight Lounge were setting up for a sing-along of Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s musical episode, “Once More With Feeling.”
Perhaps that’s why I made the connection quickly: Giselle (in this case, EBC principal Yoshie Oshima) is spurned in love and dies of a broken heart in Act I … and, in Act II, she becomes one of a number of revenge demons. But Giselle has a heart of gold, and she won’t let her paramour – young noble Albrecht (Hirofumi Kitazume), who dressed “as a peasant” (in, it must be said, the most royal of purple tights) to woo her earlier in the ballet – be murdered by the vengeful spirits.
Yes, just like a certain betrayed-at-the-altar character on Buffy.
Some stories are universal, perhaps?
Anyway, the grand story ballet, performed first in Paris in 1841 and then revived in Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, features one of the more famous (and terrifying) haunting scenes in the repertoire. That makes it a good ghostly bet for this weekend’s entertainment. The Eugene Ballet capitalized on that on its Facebook an Instagram pages, calling Giselle #zombieballet.
The plot of Giselle is ridiculous, of course, like many story ballets (and like many operas, for that matter, or fairy tales, or TV shows about vampire slayers). And the plot – while interesting – isn’t really the point, of course: The point is the dancing.
Nevertheless, a quick overview: Giselle, the sweet peasant girl who falls quickly for the duke, has a weak heart. When she discovers that her Albrecht is not only not a peasant but a noble engaged to another noble, she disobeys her mother (EBC ballet mistress and associate artistic director Jennifer Martin, who retired from performing in 2012, is back onstage as the mother) and dances her grief – and in a blow against all teenagers who don’t listen to their doting parents, she dies. When the curtain closes on the scene of despair, you might think the show is over, but no: Act II is the time for revenge demons.
They’re Slavic legends, these revenge fairies – they’re called the Wilis, and they take Giselle under their wings, or rather their veils. Ironically, EBC principal Danielle Tolmie plays both the woman to whom Albrecht is betrothed in Act I and Myrtha, the leader of the Wilis in Act II.
Myrtha and the rest of the spirits, played eerily by the company members who were just dancing happily as peasant girls at the Harvest Festival in Act I, wish to help her gain revenge on two men: Albrecht, of course, who broke her heart; and Hilarion (Reed Souther), the plucky young gamekeeper who loved Giselle and ferreted out the information that caused her demise.
The story is ridiculous, yes. But, like all of the classical story ballets, it’s utterly beautiful. The music, by Adolphe Adam, is pleasantly Romantic, and the choreography is traditional and lovely.
Then there’s everything else: the costumes, the sets, the lighting, the Wilis … and another return to the stage of a legend: Recently retired EBC founder and executive director Riley Grannan*. Grannan has a “walk-on” role as the Duke. Finally, the piece features as a bit of fun the highly noble wolfhound Drogo, known from last year’s Sleeping Beauty, during which he was a mere pup; now he’s grown and looks both gorgeous and depressed for the human nobles and their foibles.
But you don’t have to be depressed! Watching vengeance demon Wilis work their ghostly wiles on strapping young men is fun and a heartily cultural way to spend your Halloween weekend. Dancing, true love, death, vengeance … go Friday (tonight!) or Sunday, and you will likely leave in awe at the dancers’ performances, perhaps in tears at the kindness and pure-heartedness of Giselle, and definitely in happiness that you got to see this long-standing professional company kick off its season in such a gorgeous fashion.
The Eugene Ballet opens its 37th season with Giselle
Silva Performance Hall at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts
7:30 pm Friday, Oct. 28; 2 pm Sunday, Oct. 30
Tickets: $29-$65; college and youth discounts available;
Hult box office or 541-682-5000
*We’re hoping to sit down with Grannan for a Q&A soon. He retired during what one might call a rough few weeks for arts writers in Eugene, and we don’t feel that he got his due in the press. Keep your eyes peeled!