Alberta Ballet is fortunate to be in the hands of its artistic director, Jean Grand-Maître, who expresses his love for the culture in Calgary and Alberta as a whole — one that people are increasingly embracing beyond cowboy stereotypes. There’s been a shift in Calgary over the years that’s changed the face of the city and created a current of energy flowing through it that tells you “there’s something happening now.” Even friends of his who have come to visit can feel the vibrations. In this digital age, the arts remain loved and supported and Alberta Ballet has been on the receiving end of that, even through the floods in Calgary. “We thought that maybe donations would go down,” Grand-Maître says, “but it’s been very steady, which gives us air under our wings.”
Currently, the Calgary and Edmonton-based ballet company is hard at work perfecting every line for its premiere of Giselle. It’s a legendary production that is borrowed from The American Ballet Theatre in New York City and still bears Baryshnikov’s name in some of the costumes. Grand-Maître describes Giselle as a classic, like a Beethoven symphony, and it completes the holy trinity of classical ballets for the company, after The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. It is being staged by Flavia Vallone, who, having worked with such greats as Carla Fracci and Erik Bruhn, and having seen so many generations of great Giselles, offers the dancers her invaluable experience. If football is a game of inches, then ballet is the art of centimetres, as dancers must be precise in every line they create with their bodies to translate the choreography.
Grand-Maître admires the beauty of the process he’s seen his dancers go through so far. They’ve taken on the challenge of inhabiting this demanding work of art and have realized the privileged role they play in keeping this masterpiece alive. They have a special responsibility to transpose it at a different frequency to a new generation, while maintaining its traditional elements. Since Giselle has been performed for so many years, Grand-Maître says that Flavia is really pushing the dancers to be very authentic in their interpretation and to really feel it, not just reproduce what they’ve seen before.
As with many classic tales, the story of Giselle comments on elements of humanity. Its reflection of us and society is two-fold. With due consideration, Grand-Maître explains that it is “an interpretation of romanticism at that time. And so you have the distance of time to see actually how evolved your society has become, so it’s a good barometer.” In addition, at its heart, he says that Giselle is a story about heroes. As with all great tales, it brings us closer to something within ourselves. The hero of any story exists within us, and “every decision you make brings you closer to, or further away from your own inner hero, depending on the integrity of your decisions.” He believes that there is wisdom within myths, legends and fairy tales, and that they live on because they go to the core of who we are.
“I think we need these stories now more than ever,” he says. “It’s a positive thing, to come to the theatre and to try to see the best of ourselves that way.”
Giselle runs in Edmonton on March 14 and 15 and in Calgary from March 20 to 22.
By Holly Burton
Photos: Paul McGrath