Review: Fighting for the Right to Dance Giselle

As a young dancer, Katy Pyle was linked to Giselle, the heroine of the ballet betrayed by a nobleman. That – and a weak heart – drives the character mad and dies. For Pyle, the toss was Giselle’s unwavering dedication to dance, especially ballet.

But having the chance to dance such an ethereal role was not likely to happen. Pyle, who uses them and them pronouns, was strong and the teachers told him, “You would have had a great career if you were born a boy.”

With their inclusive business, Ballez, Pyle wants to broaden access to the art form: to return ballet to dancers who may also have lost their connection to it but not their desire to dance it as they please. In recent years, Pyle has transformed traditional ballets like “Firebird” and “Sleeping Beauty”; now they are launching a virtual reimagining inspired by “Giselle”.

There is a twist. In “Giselle of Loneliness”, seven dancers audition for the lead role, performing their own crazy scene for viewers tasked with ranking them one to five in categories ranging from jumps and turns to more interpretive prompts: “virginal” , “Hysterical” and “Suffering.” For the opening night stream, which was played live for an audience, there was a score sheet to fill out along the way.

In Pyle’s production, presented by the Joyce Theater until June 23, there is no real Albrecht, the nobleman who pretends to be a peasant to win Giselle’s love. Here, Albrecht represents ballet: that thing you love until it crushes your mind.

As dancers navigate, stumble, and wobble in their solos – on more than one occasion, breathless – their rambling interpretations become less of an audition than digs of buried pain and emotion. The performances reveal moments of humor mixed with fury. Wigs help either way, but there are also individual touches: the glare that Alexandra Waterbury interposes between the steps or the irritation of Charles Gowin as he takes off his ballet slippers and whips them in. wings.

Maxfield Haynes (they / them), a stunning dancer in a beehive wig that ends up coming off – with his costume on – places the skirt of her dress over her head like a bridal veil, foreshadowing the second act of the ballet. Each solo ends with death. Between auditions, host Christine Darrell (Deborah Lohse) orders us to vote. In her is a hint of Myrtle, the imperious ruler of the Wilis, the spirits of young women betrayed by their lovers.

She sits with the judges, played by Meg Harper and Janet Panetta – the royalty of New York dance – gesturing as if a real discussion is taking place. At first, Pyle’s concept is intriguing, but the competition gimmick gets tedious. By the time the seventh dancer rolls around you’re kinda like, sufficient.

More moving than these audition performances is the writing that accompanies the biographies of the dancers. “In a way, Giselle is that unapproachable thing,” MJ Markovitz says in the program. “But at the same time, I think my interpretation of my version is the rejection of all of these things and all of these preconceptions.” Haynes writes about feeling betrayed by a world that wouldn’t let them dance on pointe, that saw them only as men: “Ballet is for me like a prison with flowers.

At the end, “Giselle of Loneliness” is a lush garden of bodies: more of a wake-up call than a dance of death, like in the original. The dancers stand nervously in front of the bathrobe curtain waiting for Lohse to announce the winner of the competition; then they turn against her. Reaching out an arm with a stiff, flexed hand, they become Pyle’s version of Wilis as they slowly spin around in increasing darkness. A curtain separates from a stage full of swirling dry ice.

At first it is a disturbing sight, these spinning dervishes in bathrobes, but soon their chests lean forward and their dresses open. Joined by Lohse and ultimately the judges, the aspiring Giselles reappear dressed in Pyle’s shiny, see-through costumes in shades of pink and canary as they glide in and out of the formal grounds with gratitude and joy.

It is soft. What has always marked Pyle’s dances is not the battle between strength and delicacy, or the fight against stereotypes of ballerinas, but the way in which the dancers temper their rawness with sincerity. There is joy and surrender. Vulnerability? Always.

In the end, no votes were counted. It was never a question of winners and losers: what matters is how these dancers, guided by Giselle, find their way back to ballet. It’s personal. And there is room for everyone.

Giselle of loneliness

Until June 23,

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