By Eli Keel for Louisville Insider
April 11, 2018
This weekend, the Louisville Ballet is staging “Giselle,” one of the greats of the classical canon. It’s a special ballet, full of danger, broken hearts and mystical creatures.
It’s a little more special this year, as the three-act ballet marks the last performance for not one, but two of Louisville Ballet’s well-respected ballerinas. Christy Corbitt has been with the ballet for 15 years, Helen Daigle for 20.
Insider caught up with Daigle and Corbitt to hear about their life as dancers, the tenure at the ballet and their plans for the future.
A lot of ballerinas start early.
“In first grade, how old are you? Six? Seven years old? And I just never stopped,” says Corbitt.
Daigle started even earlier, depending on who you ask.
“My mom will tell you I started when I learned how to walk,” she says. “I remember as a very young child watching Baryshnikov on PBS and mimicking his moves.”
Corbitt is from the Atlanta area and danced with the ballet there at the beginning of her career. She stopped over in Memphis for a year before heading down to Texas for six seasons with the Texas Ballet Theatre. There she met and worked with former Louisville Ballet artistic director Bruce Simpson.
“I definitely followed him here,” says Corbitt.
Daigle was born in Baton Rouge, La., but didn’t start dancing until her family moved to Decatur, Ga. They moved back to Baton Rouge and she kept dancing, doing most of her early training in Louisiana.
Before coming to Louisville, she trained with the Joffrey Ballet School and the School of American Ballet and danced with Feld Ballets/NY, Ballet Hispanico and the Miami City Ballet.
In this weekend’s production of “Giselle,” they each play several different roles, part of a system that current artistic and executive director Robert Curran uses to give multiple dancers opportunities to play lead roles.
“He knows the value of that,’ says Corbitt. “He knows getting people on stage is the way to cultivate careers.”
Corbitt’s final performance also will feature her playing one her all-time favorite roles.
“Saturday night I get to finish with ‘Giselle,’” she says. “I’ve been really lucky. In my career, the production has come around five times, and I’ve done Giselle four of those five times. It’s special. I love telling a story.”
For Daigle, the roles that stand out aren’t as traditional.
“‘Lark Ascending’ is my favorite ballet. It’s very near and dear to my heart,” says Daigle. “I love classical ballet, but I really love the modern, more contemporary, neo-whatever you want to call it. And some of what I think of as my greatest accomplishments as a dancer have been those pieces. Adam Hoagland’s ‘Cold Virtues’ — hands down, that’s my ballet.”
Daigle and Corbitt share a favorite role, one they both play outside of the ballet, and it’s a role that helped convince them to stay with the Louisville Ballet for so long. They’re both moms, and when they had to take time off for their pregnancies, the ballet always made sure they could come back to the stage.
“We’ve been super lucky in this company that they have supported the many, many children that have been had by all the women in this company,” says Daigle. “It’s not like that in all companies.”
There have been plenty of changes at the ballet in the years these two have been dancing, and we’re not just talking about the ballet’s Twitter account.
“We have definitely risen to the change in society and the environment around us,” Daigle explains. “We do ballets now that we would never have done 10, 15 years ago, for fear of upsetting someone. Now we push boundaries.”
With the sort of longevity both these dancers have, neither made the recent decision to step down lightly.
“How do you know when it’s time to go?” asks Corbitt. “It’s been on my radar for five years … I never wanted to be bitter, and I didn’t want to keep going for so long that I became a joke, you know? ‘Oh, look at the old lady in the corner still trying to kick.’”
Daigle also has been pondering her exit from the stage for some time, thinking about how the years of stress and strain have affected her body.
“Somebody asked me the other day, ‘Are you really ready?’ Well, no. I’ll never be ready, but my physical being is ready for me to stop. I made the decision last year. But I wanted my number, I wanted my 20th year,” she says.
In addition to dancing in pieces like “Cold Virtues,” Daigle also has set, or taught, those ballets to other companies and to the Louisville Ballet when they re-staged the piece several years after its original creation.
“I really enjoy it,” she says. “When I started staging ballets, that’s kind of when I got the taste for what was maybe going to be the next step for me. It was 2010 when I staged ‘Cold Virtues’ the first time here. So it’s been eight years.”
Neither of the dancers will have to travel far before landing in their next roles.
“I’m going to be transitioning onto the artistic team here,” says Daigle. “You pour your heart into something for 20 years, you’ve got institutional knowledge, and you don’t want to just walk away.”
Corbitt also is moving into a second ballet position.
“I’m very, very excited and fortunate that I have been named the principal of the Louisville Ballet School,” says Corbitt. “They were so excited to get rid of me, and I said, ‘Haha!’”
For Daigle and Corbitt, looking back at full careers on the stage brings up a lot of emotions.
“Oh no, I was doing good,” says Daigle as a couple of tears snuck out of her eyes. “I am such a weeper — you have no idea!”
Corbitt admits to crying frequently during the process, as each day brings another round of “last times.”
“But I’m not sad,” she says. “I’m appreciating, and grateful, to have all this knowledge and all these opportunities. I’ve decided I’m just going to enjoy it and be in the moment. If you can’t enjoy it, what’s the point?”
“Giselle,” Corbitt and Daigle will be on stage at the Brown Theatre, 315 W. Broadway, on Friday, April 13, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, April 14, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets start at $35.50.