Premiering nearly 200 years ago in Paris, Giselle is one of the most popular ballets to emerge from the Romantic Era. 

Christopher Anderson, Alberta Ballet’s artistic director, now aims to reimagine the classic dance for the current generation. 

“I think that why this particular ballet has had more success than some of the others from the era is the porous nature of the story,” Anderson says. “Themes within the story, which is quite a simple story, are universal.”

The show just finished in Edmonton and runs in Calgary from March 16 to 25 at the Jubilee Auditorium.

Behind the curtains

Anderson’s love for dance started with musical theatre in his youth and expanded after his formal ballet training in high school.

Giselle reimagines a classic Romantic Era ballet for contemporary audiences. Video supplied by: Nigel Goodwin.

“For me, I think what I found so interesting about it was how challenging it was,” Anderson says. “That sense of personal accomplishment tied in with all of the pieces that I had already grown to appreciate about the performing arts.” 

After 16 years as a professional dancer, Anderson joined Alberta Ballet to further develop his career in the arts. 

“I was just really taken by the dancers in the company,” Anderson says. “It felt like the right place for me to take that next step.” 

In 2014, Alberta Ballet did its first rendition of Giselle. Anderson says the experience was very powerful, prompting the company to revisit the classic ballet.

“I hope that the audience feels emotionally connected to what they’re experiencing and that it inspires conversation afterwards.”

A story inspired by heartache

The ballet emerged at a pivotal moment in the early 1800s, when arts and literature began to explore narratives of fantasy and life beyond death.

Giselle was one of the first ballets to blend pantomime and dancing into a cohesive story. Pantomime is a form of entertainment that uses music and gestures to convey meaning. 

The story follows the haunting tale of Giselle, a peasant girl who falls in love with a nobleman-in-disguise, Albrecht. She goes mad and dies of heartbreak after discovering his true identity. 

A supernatural cult, plans for deadly revenge and shared passion create a story that’s held strong against the test of time.   

The ballet’s innovative nature stems from the complex series of steps dancers must perform while staying engaged with the characters.

“There were transcendent developments in the work of the actual practice of the art form,” Anderson says. “As you’re going through these technical variations, staying true and connected to the story is super important so that the audience doesn’t come in and come out.”

A masterpiece brought to life through collaboration

The Alberta Jubilee Auditoria Society works with the Government of Alberta, who owns the venue, on all performances in Calgary and Edmonton. 

Jonathan Love, CEO of the society, says the organization aims to support the athletes and artists who make the show possible.

“We also want to just shine a great spotlight on the world class artistry that’s going on here in our program,” Love says. 

Anderson says he hopes the ballet inspires conversations among audience members and they come away feeling connected to the story. 

“Regardless of how the performance is unfolding on that particular night, I feel a real sense of pride in watching the dancers take the work and be all of the things that we aspire for it to be.”

Tickets for the performance can be purchased here.

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