“I wanted to make it more scary” - updating Giselle

Former Royal Ballet dancer Ludovic Ondiviela on his re-imagining of classic ballet

BALLET IRELAND is touring a new version of Giselle, the haunting story of love and betrayal, choreographed by one of Europe’s foremost emerging choreographers, former Royal Ballet dancer Ludovic Ondiviela.

Ballet Ireland’s 21st century telling of this romantic classic, performed by an international cast of world-class dancers, including young Irish ballet dancer Cian Hughes, will be on stage at the Town Hall Theatre on Thursday May 18 at 8pm.

Giselle, betrayed by her beloved, Albrecht, dies broken-hearted, but her spirit returns to protect her now-repenting lover from the Wilis, the vengeful ghosts of young women jilted before their wedding day, who dance men to their deaths.

"Giselle has always been for me one of the most significant examples of ballet romanticism," choreographer Ondiviela tells me. "The original inspiration for its premier came from two ghost stories – Victor Hugo’s poem 'Phantoms' and Heinrich Heine’s 'On Germany'. It is the story of selfless love and forgiveness that goes beyond a place, a time, or a line between life and death – therefore still relevant today.

"I was excited in re-staging Giselle’s story in a more modern vision and interested in translating this powerful tale to a place in our present life. After having danced the traditional production for many years at the Royal Ballet, I wanted to explore and give our characters a realistic flavour, and a deep understanding of their motives and relationships, while keeping and developing the more romantic aspects of the traditional story."

Ondiviela was born in Perpignan in France. Aged 11 he entered the Paris Opera Ballet School and at 13 the Marseille Studio Ballet Colette Armand, before training at the Royal Ballet Upper School. His awards included silver medal at the 2000 Concours international de danse, Paris, and gold medal at the Roseta Mauri Competition. He graduated into the Royal Ballet Company in 2003 and was promoted to First Artist in 2007. He retired in 2014 to focus on choreography, and that year created his first full-length work for the company, Cassandra, and 4x4 for Gandini Juggling, as part of the London International Mime Festival.

Giselle is the second production he has choreographed for Ballet Ireland. “Three years ago I did a 30 minute piece for the company called Lost,” he says. “I have always wanted to choreograph Giselle. I danced it a lot when I was with the Royal Ballet but I think unless an audience member is really interested in seeing a classical ballet it is not something they are likely to relate to. A lot of my friends and people I socialise with don’t know much about ballet so if they go to Giselle they find it is not really reachable. I wanted to make it present and relevant and to make the situations that the characters go through be something that could happen to any of us today.

“There were different ways we could have gone about that. One of the most obvious ones was to set it in a specific city or area but I didn’t want to do that. I collaborated with Maree Kearns who did the set and costumes, and what we wanted was to create a world that felt like our world but not so detailed that you could say it was in Dublin or New York or Paris or wherever. So it is not set in a specific time or place.

giselle

"When it came to the characters the aim was to keep the journeys they went through in the traditional version but create a scenario that would be more realistic for today. In the traditional version Giselle is a peasant who falls in love with a prince, and when she finds out he is already spoken for she dies of a broken heart. What I had to do was to take that scenario and those emotions - people still fall in love and feel betrayed - and make it into a scenario that was more realistic. So I asked who would be a peasant and a prince in today’s society and how would people react today when feeling betrayed.”

Responses to the production have been enthusiastic, with The Arts Review describing it as ‘brave and breathtakingly beautiful’ and The Irish Independent finding it "a hugely enjoyable version that will satisfy traditionalists as well as innovators".

“A couple of reviews have mentioned the generation of The Walking Dead which made me smile,” Ondiviela notes. “I am 30 years old and probably a victim of my generation; I grew up watching sci-fi and in a way that probably reflects the production because I really wanted to make it something that was accessible for all ages. The original version happens in a cemetery and is romanticised, and I wanted to make it more scary.”

Tickets are €22/18 from the Town Hall (091 - 569777, www.tht.ie ).

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