To this day, Giselle is one of the most beloved classical ballets.The work premiered in Paris, France in 1841. Act I of Giselle presents the audience with drama, dancing, and heartbreak. It also sets the tone for Act II where the Wilis claim the stage and bring forth Giselle’s spirit…
The Act II Wilis continue to be some of the most famous phantoms in any full-length ballet. Act II of Giselle is one of the most celebrated and recognizable sections of any ballet. This scene is performed by 18 corps de ballet women and two demi-soloist women.
When dancers who portray the Wilis shift gears from their roles in Act I to Act II, they make a prominent change in their makeup. The Wilis appear slightly pale onstage because they lightly paint themselves during intermission to appear ghostly. This is the first step in representing a Wili. Along with the makeup change, the characters of Wilis are shaped through specific placement of the head, arms, and legs. For example, when Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, calls the spirits out of their graves, they step on to stage slightly tilted forward with their arms crossed below the chest. Throughout this scene, the Wilis stand in line while their heads are turned slightly over their shoulder. The eyelids are shifted downward and out.
Through the rehearsal process, we polish these nuances that define the Wilis. For the iconic chug section (seen at the beginning of the video below in the Petipa version), we work on leveling out our arms and legs. Staying in line all the way across the stage can be tricky but, over time, we learn to anticipate and watch each other. Just like any major corps de ballet section, it is rewarding to move in unison.
Miami City Ballet began working on Giselle in June. In the past, I have performed in the Petipa version as Myrtha, Moyna, Giselle’s Friends, and as a Wili. This time around I will be performing in Coralli and Perrot’s version. During our run of Giselle, I will be performing the Peasant Pas de Deux, Friends, Wilis, and in the Court.
I most look forward to traveling with the production as it opens our eyes to new audiences.
Miami City Ballet‘s Giselle concludes this weekend with 4 performances at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.
Samantha Dancing as Myrtha with Alabama Ballet in 2011: