Whidbey Island Dance Theatre’s upcoming production of “Giselle” may give audiences the willies.
The ballet is a two-act romance which tells the story of Giselle, a young peasant maiden, who meets a young prince who has donned the accoutrements of a pauper and come to her village. The two fall in love, but Giselle soon discovers the prince’s true identity as well as the fact that he is betrothed to a princess in an arranged marriage.
The young maiden, who is weak of heart, dies of heartbreak. Because Giselle died prior to marriage, the Wilis summon her from the grave. The Wilis are a group of supernatural women, the post-mortem spirits of maidens who met with similar fates, who force men who enter their graveyard to dance until they die.
Though the origin of the phrase to “give you the willies” is unconfirmed, some believe it to have been popularized following the production of “Giselle” in the mid-19th century.
The concept of the Wilis can be found in several variations throughout European folklore.
The Serbo-Croatian word “vila” which is pronounced “wili” in English, denotes the spirit of a betrothed girl who died after being jilted by her betrothed.
Whidbey Island Dance Theatre will present “Giselle” at 7 p.m. Friday, April 24 and Saturday, April 25 and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 26 at the South Whidbey High School Performing Arts Center. Tickets cost $15 if purchased in advance at brownpapertickets.com, or $18 at the door.
The show is a part of Whidbey Island Dance Theatre’s NewWorks series. NewWorks features guest choreographers such as Rainbow Fletcher, who choreographed this production of “Giselle.” Fletcher is a Seattle-based choreographer and owner of the contemporary dance company HyperNova. According to a press release from Whidbey Island Dance Theatre, Fletcher’s work is “sharp, edgy and dramatic.”
In “Giselle” Prince Albrecht will be played by William Earnest D. Burden and Erin Crall will perform the lead role of Giselle.
Though much of the story is tragic, Danielle Wilkins, assistant artistic director, said that there are plenty of joyous moments sprinkled throughout the show as well.
When the prince, Albrecht, visits the graveyard, Giselle is able to save him from an untimely fate by helping him to dance until the dawn, at which point the Wilis retreat to their graves.
“It’s kind of a happy ending,” said Wilkins, “not entirely.”
“It’s a very well-rounded ballet,” Wilkins said.
Wilkins added that the ballet’s more dramatic scenes have required the dancers to work closely together, leading them to grow as a company, while the lighter scenes allow them to take on a more joyous mood.
Wilkins added that “Giselle” has always been one of her favorite ballets. In part, she said, this is due to its ability to engage audience members in a way different from many other ballets. As an audience member herself, Wilkins said she was moved by the depth of its storyline and the drama of certain scenes.
“It’s one of my favorites,” Jennifer Bondelid said.
Bondelid is one of a handful of community dancers who will be dancing in the production.
“It’s a really tragic story, but very beautiful, and kind of a story of redemption,” Bondelid said. “People make mistakes but love can always save the day.”
Ahnalee Von Kappel and Skyylynn Lippo, who will both be dancing in the production as friends of Giselle and as Wilis, said one of the most challenging aspects has been the acting.
Though the Wilis don’t talk, they emote through their eyes, the girls explained.
Lippo and Von Kappel noted that Wilkins has a unique method of creating a script to ensure that the dancers are in tune with their characters and the story.
Each of the girls also noted that watching Crall, a professional guest dancer, has been rewarding for them.
“It’s a really cool ballet,” Lippo said.
“I’m really, really excited for the community to see this ballet,” Bondelid said. “I’m so proud of the girls and how hard they train.”