BALLEZ: GISELLE OF LONELINESS
June 16, 2021
The ultra composed and superior sounding Christine Darrell (Deborah Lohse) greets the audience to outline the evening's dance competition. In tribute to one of the Romantic era's iconic ballets, "Giselle", the contestants, (members of Ballez) will interpret the famous "mad" scene danced by the gullible village girl after she's jilted by that damn nobleman.
Mad scenes are not uncommon in the European, classical cultural tradition -- famously, there's Shakespeare's Ophelia and Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. But Giselle really takes the prize.
Restrictive and hetero-centrically bound, ballet demands a very specific vision; and because of the form's rigidity, it sets itself up for loving ridicule. And not unlike Ballet Trocakderos, or even Jerome Robbins, Katy Pyle's Ballez company of mixed gender dancers (all female-assigned or of femme experience) simultaneously honor and upend the classics.
Choreographer and director Pyle sends seven dancers out to audition for the part. They are graded by two judges, Meg Harper and Janet Panetta (beloved dance teachers), the audience and host.
One by one, the "Giselle-to-be" performs their personalized version of the mad scene prefaced by a catalogue of renown steps from the ballet. Grades are based on the exquisite perfection of the arms, feet, jumps, turns, hysteria and interpretation.
Outside of the one common denominator -- the wig-- everyone presented a highly individualized, personalized interpretation. In a glorious twist, rather than surreptitiously removing hair bun pins before the mad scene, every Giselle is seen struggling and struggling to unleash their hair until finally ripping out the pins and spinning into a downward death spiral.
Although no one exhibited the ethereal, fairy-like quality (quite the contrary), they all exuded an intense fondness for ballet. One after another, they executed the famous spins in place with a lifted, bent back leg. A few broke that pattern and sprinkled in a couple of fouettes or even the famous, feathery jumps from Act II.
Perhaps ballet, a traditional European artform born in the courts and supported by the upper class and bourgeoisie excludes many. However, if Ballez: Giselle of Loneliness is any indication, the ballet form is pliable and possesses the capacity to inspire anyone who wants to speak and tweak its language.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis