My grandma and I used to play make-believe in her upstairs spare room. She would narrate, and I would act and dance. There was always a dramatic turn in the story in which I would throw myself to the ground in some sort of despair. Papa would holler up to us, “what in the heck are you two doing up there,” sprinkled with curse words. Grandma would holler back that we were playing, and we would giggle quietly to each other. By the end of the story both of us would have cried at least once, maybe twice. Real tears.
I was always fascinated by the Mad Scene at the end of Act I in Giselle. What could drive a person to that point—that point of breaking. What pain, what despair, could cause the human mind to break, the spirit to shatter? In my lands of make believe I or my dolls would slip into the depths of madness, crossing the line into that mysterious desolation. Perhaps there was a bit of a dark side to my imagination. After watching the movie Ben Hur, many of my Barbie dolls were diagnosed with leprosy. However—they were always cured.
What was it that drove Giselle to that breaking point? I remember once upon a time kneeling on the cold bathroom floor clutching an old stuffed animal for support. I remember far far away, rocking back and forth to my heart’s pounding rhythm as I watched it all fall apart. The already cracked little pieces inside were beginning to crumble faster than I could catch them. And when they’d fall they would disintegrate. I clawed out at them, trying to pull them back. I walked the line, teetering on its narrow path. I could see the white bliss of nothing waiting on the other side, enticing me away from the black abyss of secrets and sorrow.
Sometimes the human heart is fragile, but thankfully the human spirit is strong. Sometimes you have to let the heart shatter so that you can discover how strong you are, so you can heal better than you were before.
Giselle gives us the perfect balance of human and fantasy. Act I is populated by peasants while Act II comprises ethereal beings. Yet, no matter the setting, the emotions and grit of the characters are relatable in some way to every viewer. This is part of the power of the Romantic Era. This was a period of innovation and transformation in literature and the arts. This imaginative age contrasted the classical form which dominated the arts. Giselle is one of the great results of this movement. “There is no other ballet which in the short space of two acts offers such an immense range of expression to the ballerina, both as dancer and mime. Indeed, taken all in all, Giselle was and remains the supreme achievement of the Romantic Ballet.” How appropriate it is to conclude our current season and welcome our 2018-2019 Season of Romance with Giselle.
Romance can take many forms. Next season will explore the full spectrum in which this ideal can manifest itself—from the tragic passion of Romeo + Juliet to the fantastical ardor of Cinderella; the magical adventure of The Brown-Forman Nutcracker to the raw emotion of Human Abstract. Every human soul desires to love and be loved. Sometimes the result is happily ever after, but often times it surfaces as loneliness and heartache.
It has been strange not being in rehearsals and seeing the process of bringing Giselle to life; however, I am excited to be in the audience tonight experiencing this ballet amongst fellow viewers. I look forward to being inspired by my amazing coworkers. Perhaps I will not be able to go home after the show and dance in my bedroom as I did as a child after going to the ballet. However, I am eager to be moved by this story, to return home feeling that pull in my heart and lift in my spirit that only art can bring. I know that in some ways it will be difficult to be sitting watching when my body yearns to be on stage dancing, but it is comforting to know that there are many ways in which we can be moved by the arts.
I cannot wait to be back to the stage in the Season of Romance. I cannot wait for the soothing pattern of class and routine of rehearsal to return to my life. I cannot wait to walk and run and skip and drive. I cannot wait to dance. In the meantime, I am grateful for this time I have had to gain a new perspective on art and the infinite ways in which it can inspire us. I am grateful for the solace of writing. I am grateful for the knowledge that even when the day comes that my body can no longer dance, I will still be able to have a place in this art form that has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. I love ballet. And I love Giselle. The lessons are infinite. The story is timeless. I hope you can join me in experiencing how this ballet lifts and teaches the soul.