Dancing Giselle Deslondes
by Sharon O’Brien
Kellis McSparrin Oldenburg — dancer, choreographer and teacher– will dance the title role in Marigny Opera Ballet’s world premiere of Giselle Deslondes. The Clinton, MS native received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Dance from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2010. Following her undergraduate studies, she moved to New York City to pursue her master’s degree in dance at New York University, graduating from Tisch School of the Arts with a Masters of Fine Arts in 2012.
A former instructor of dance at Belhaven University in Jackson, MS, Kellis specializes in ballet, contemporary, jazz and musical theatre techniques. She has also orchestrated a freelance choreography business for the past nine years. Kellis and her husband, Kirk, currently live in New Orleans, where she is a dancer and choreographer for Marigny Opera Ballet.
What was your introduction to Giselle? Did you ever dance in a production? Did you study the 1841 production in a dance history class? Why is Giselle a turning point in the history of ballet?
My first experience with Giselle was in my Dance History class in undergrad. The ballet was presented as the epitome of Romantic Ballet, and I instantly fell in love with the characters, the movement and the story. It is just one of those iconic ballets that defined the style and development of the dance form.
Will your performance incorporate anything – a step, a movement, a gesture – from any of the earlier Giselles?
The movement of Giselle is new and original choreography by Maya Taylor, but the essence and intention of her choreography definitely pays homage to the earlier Giselles. For me, I am inspired really inspired by the character of Giselle, and while the movement might be more contemporary, my performance quality is reflective of the timeless story of Giselle.
Although the Marigny Opera Ballet production is set in a different time and place – 1930 New Orleans – and features a new score by Tucker Fuller, how are you and Maya making the character relatable to contemporary audiences?
I think there is a rawness and realness to Giselle, and Maya has coached me on finding that realness through my movement and my performance. Everyone has experienced love, heartbreak, betrayal, forgiveness, joy, bitter sweetness . . . . and these universal emotions are what drive the story of Giselle. The key is authenticity.
Giselle has been called the Hamlet of ballet. So to dance the title role is an immense challenge. For its 2012 Giselle, the National Ballet of Canada cast four sets of Giselles and Albrechts. What kind of research did you do? How did you prepare for the physical demands of the role?
I’m a visual learner, so I watched a lot of different portrayals of Giselle. Seeing how different dancers interpret the story and her character helped me craft my own definition of who Giselle is. I also do a lot of journaling and character analysis for my personal journey into who Giselle is.
In terms of the physical demands, we rehearse with Marigny five days a week, so the schedule is quite rigorous. We have company class before every rehearsal, and I also try to exercise regularly, eat healthy and get plenty of sleep. Maya’s choreography is very full-bodied and challenging, so I have worked hard to be in the best physical shape possible so that I can give the role of Giselle my absolute best.
Both the 1841 and the 2016 Giselle require your character to constantly change, evolve and transform. So, in addition to the physicality of the role, you have to present these transformations in a way that a contemporary audience relates to. What would you say are the biggest emotional challenges of the role?
I don’t want to give too much away about the ballet, but Giselle does experience madness as a result of a broken heart. That scene is probably the most challenging for me because I really have to let myself “go there.” That madness has to be authentic or it will fall flat and won’t be believable. It is exhilarating and daunting at the same time.
How is the Marigny Opera Ballet different from other dance companies you’ve worked with?
Dancing with MOB has shown me where my limitations are and how to push past them. We are held to a high standard, both technically and artistically, and I love that expectation. I am a different dancer now than I was when I started with MOB last season; I have made so many discoveries and breakthroughs . . . I feel like I’m really unlocking my potential and defining myself as an artist. Plus, you can’t beat performing to live music!
Are you teaching class as well as well rehearsing Giselle?
I’m an adjunct instructor in the University of Southern Mississippi’s Department of Dance. Twice a week, I commute to Hattiesburg, MS from New Orleans and I currently teach Advanced Modern Technique, Dance Production and Dance Appreciation. I’m also a yoga instructor and I often teach company class for the Marigny Opera Ballet.
What’s your first post-Giselle project?
Rest. 🙂 And then we start rehearsing for our next MOB program!
If you have a creative bucket list, what are some of things on it?
I’m in awe of Maya and her ability to choreograph a full-length, complex ballet. I think it would be an awesome, challenging experience and I’d really like to try my hand at it someday.