Nancy Sinatra’s revenge song and pop hit “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” of 1966 has nothing on the timeless story of “Giselle,” now being relaunched by The Joffrey Ballet. The company kicks off its season with the Chicago premiere of Lola de Ávila’s adaption featuring the original score Adolphe Adam composed for the ballet’s premiere in 1841.
Set during the Middle Ages, “Giselle” is a ballet in two acts. In the first, she and her peasant mother Berthe meet Duke Albrecht (a nobleman in disguise) who flirts with Giselle while failing to mention he’s betrothed to a princess. Giselle falls hard for Albrecht, so when she does learn the truth about him, she loses her mind and dies of a broken heart.
In the second act, Giselle’s spirit is enlisted by an army of other brokenhearted souls called the Wilis (made up of dead women who were jilted by their lovers in life). Led by Myrtha, the Wilis rise from their graves to seek revenge upon men by dancing them to death through the night. When Albrecht visits Giselle’s grave to reveal his remorse and love for her, Myrtha and the Wilis strut their stuff. But Giselle forgives and protects him. As daylight arrives, Albrecht’s human life is spared as is Giselle’s soul since she can rest in peace rather than spend eternity dancing in a vengeful state.
Victoria Jaiani and Jeraldine Mendoza rotate in the title role of Giselle just as they did in the role of the mother for Christopher Wheeldon’s world premiere production of “The Nutcracker” performed last season by the company.
“I find that artists can evolve by working together and learning from each other, especially when sharing roles,” says Jaiani. “In my own personal approach, I find I rely on my ballet training, and I create an inner dialogue for each character that I portray. I also think it’s necessary to draw on life experiences to develop a complex character.”
Jaiani also played Giselle for the Joffrey’s 2007 production choreographed by Freddie Franklin. “Both Freddie Franklin and Lola de Ávila’s productions are very traditional and have a classical feel,” explains Jaiani. “Each brought their own nuances to the choreography that challenged me to explore and find my true Giselle.”
“Lola has definitely put her mark on this ‘Giselle,’ and it is going to be an absolutely beautiful production,” adds Mendoza, who not only plays the lead in alternating performances but portrays Myrtha and Bathilde as well. “Although technically and physically demanding, I’ve enjoyed discovering each woman.”
“Even though this ballet requires technique and aesthetic, ‘Giselle’ is completely story driven,” continues Mendoza. “Every movement, hand gesture, or eye connection leads you through Giselle’s world. It’s tragic and heartbreaking, yet so beautiful because she finds it in her broken heart to still forgive.”
“Giselle” performs at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway, October 18-29. For tickets ($61-$116) and details, visit joffrey.org.
Photo of Victoria Jaiani (Giselle) and Temur Suluashvili (Albrecht) by Cheryl Mann.