Ballet Western Reserve Puts Its Touch on ‘Giselle’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Ballet Western Reserve faced some challenges when it endeavored to bring “Giselle” to the stage.

Artistic director Cate Greyjoy had to tweak the plot to match the students in her troupe as well as the available dancers. The task was to present the 1841 ballet in a way that is suitable for the performers while retaining its power for the audience. Greyjoy feels the performance will do just that.

“We hope to show the Youngstown community that even the oldest ballets can be reworked to resonate with modern audiences,” Greyjoy said.

BWR will present “Giselle” Saturday, April 9, at Powers Auditorium. 

“Giselle” tells the story of Giselle and Hilaria, whose friendship is shattered when a newcomer, Albrecta, arrives. The three are left to face otherworldly consequences for their actions.

“Our first task was to reimagine the libretto – or plot – of the ballet,” Greyjoy said. “This is a tale of romantic love, betrayal and loss, but we sought to make this production better reflective of our student population.”

BWR’s “Giselle” will center on the bonds shared between young friends, and how they navigate conflict, the consequences of their actions, and – eventually – death.

“We’ve taken some of the ‘grim’ out of it and made it a little more accessible,” said Katie Merrill, executive director of BWR.

A lack of male dancers made other adjustments necessary.

“From rearranging traditionally male partner work to reshaping key mime sequences, our ‘Giselle’ displays the versatility and talent of our growing dancers in an age-appropriate manner,” Greyjoy said.

The April 9 performance is indicative of BWR’s new emphasis on collaboration and its continued exploration of the art form. It will mark the downtown school’s first performance of the classic full-length ballet.

It will also mark the second time this season that the troupe will perform to live musical accompaniment, as the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra will join the performance. BWR’s December production of “The Nutcracker” featured a live ensemble comprised of Dana School of Music faculty.

The YSO will use 25 to 30 musicians for the performance, which will include about 50 dancers from BWR. Dean Buck of Cleveland Opera Theater will lead the orchestra. Buck, who has served as conductor with Opera Western Reserve productions, is experienced at conducting an orchestra to the action on stage but this will be his ballet debut.

The opulent score will not be changed.

“As this production marks our reunion with the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra, we have remained faithful to the original score,” Greyjoy said, adding that the original choreography has also been preserved as much as possible.

The BWR had a professional affiliation with the YSO years ago. Rented stage sets and full use of lighting will give BWR’s “Giselle” an extra level of production quality. Adding new works to its repertoire improves the education of BWR’s student performers, Merrill said.

“We decided to do something classical this year,” she said. “It’s fun for our students to partake in.”

The classic opera also allows the dancers to widen their experience. 

“‘Giselle’ has so many lead opportunities,” Merrill said. “We are able to highlight so many company members.”

Greyjoy said the 20 members of BWR’s pre-professional dance company worked “tirelessly” to bring the production to life.

“Beyond rehearsals and daily classes, our cast members have immersed themselves in preparation, challenging their acting skills alongside their mastery of ballet technique,” she said.

The principal dancers are graduating seniors Emily Dew, Isabella Loccisano and Kellsie Shadowens, and Eileen Beck, Amanda Hvizdos and Kennedy Pickard.

Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. performance range from $20 to $34 (plus $6 service fee) and are available at the DeYor box office, downtown; by phone at 330 259 0555; and at DeYorpac.org.

Pictured: Emily Dew plays Giselle (Act 1) and Isabella Loccisano plays Myrtha in Ballet Western Reserve’s production of “Giselle.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.