The Toledo Ballet wants to give you the Wilis next weekend.
Don’t be afraid, though; these Wilis are dancers in long, floating white skirts who will float across the Valentine Theatre stage during 7:30 p.m. performances of Giselle Friday and Saturday.
One of the dance world’s most beloved story ballets, it represents a shift for the Toledo Ballet, which in recent years has produced original contemporary dance shows created by Michael Lang, a teacher and marketing director at the company.
It’s also a revival for the venerable company.
Giselle is a winsome peasant lass with a weak heart. She falls, hard, for a visitor, the glamorous nobleman Duke Albrecht, ignoring her boyfriend, Hilarion, the viillage gamekeeper.
So much trouble ensues: Hilarion is jealous. Albrecht is betrothed to a lady of his social class.
Oh, oh, misery for Giselle, who dies of heartbreak after learning the truth. It’s such a short and cliché story, yet with romantic music by Adolphe Adam and choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, it fills all of Act I.
Then come the Wilis, who float through the Act II forest scene.
Willis, archetypal European folklore creatures, are the souls of maidens abandoned by their lovers at the altar.
(Caution to guilty jilters: if a Wili catches you, count on dancing ’til you drop. Really drop, for good.)
One of the most popular of the classic “white ballets” (for the costumes), Giselle was concocted in France from an old German poem. It debuted in 1841.
Toledo Ballet presented Giselle in the 1970s, with Soili Arvola and Leo Ahonen, Finnish dance stars, in the lead roles. Company founder Marie Vogt had discovered the couple and made them regular guests with the company.
Dancing the role of Myrta, head of the Wilis, was Lisa Mayer, a young and ambitious dancer whose talent and hard work would lead her to a lengthy and impressive professional dance career in New York City.
Today, Lisa Mayer Lang heads the Toledo Ballet School, teaches dance at the University of Michigan, and is back tutu-deep in preparations for the latest production of Giselle.
“We considered several ballets, but Lisa felt this one would really showcase our company’s strong technique,” said Mari Davies, executive director of the 70-year-old company.
“It’s kind of cool that it has come full circle to Lisa, who is now working shoulder to shoulder with Soili in staging this production.”
Arvola also is happy to be back and she has fond memories of decades of work with Toledo Ballet.
“I am following the traditional Kirov Ballet version (as I learned it in Finland),” Arvola said via email. “Act I is adapted with great respect to traditional choreography.
Act II is as close to original as I can make it.”
Appearing as Giselle will be Olga Pavlova, a dancer born and trained in Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet Academy. An internationally renowned performer, she also holds a degree in teaching and choreography from the Moscow Academy of Professional Arts.
Andrei Jouravlev will dance the part of Duke Albrecht. He studied at the Perm State Choreography Academy in Russia and became a principal dancer in the Perm State Opera and Ballet Theatre.
“I always have to make some changes depending on the cast and abilities of dancers,” noted Arvola, “but I am very proud how it turned out for Toledo Ballet this time.”
Company regulars including Michael Warrick, Katie Bostleman, and Rebekah Paul will dance in some of the supporting roles and appear as Wilis and townsfolk. Dance colleagues of Arvola and Ahonen also will join company dancers.
Board member James Hill designed the set and regular costumer Doris Richfield created costumes to blend with outfits Arvola is bringing. Ahonen, who danced and traveled with the late Rudolf Nureyev, is contributing a few props from those years.
Since arriving in 2007, Mayer Lang has worked hard to make the company a teaching affiliate for the American Ballet Theatre, earning her own certification and applying ABT methods in classes.
“Our company is about as close to professional as it could be,” said Mayer Lang. Her goal is for Toledo Ballet to do three major shows in a season: The Nutcracker, one of the longest running productions in the country; a classic revival such as Giselle, and an original contemporary work.
Tickets for “Giselle” are $15-$25 at 419-242-2787 or www.valentinetheatre.com.
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