The award winning production from 2016 is back for a three performance run beginning Friday, March 23 at Marigny Opera House
“To dance the title role is an immense challenge.”
In her third season with Marigny Opera Ballet, Gretchen Erickson choreographed “Silk and Smoke,” one of three jazz ballets that premiered in January and plunged head first into rehearsals for the title role in the much anticipated encore of “Giselle Deslondes.”
Like other ballet companies that double and sometimes triple cast the principal roles in the classical “Giselle,” Marigny Opera Ballet has two Giselles – Kellis Mc Sperrin Oldenburg, who created the role in 2016 and Erickson, who appeared as Julia and the Bokor in the inaugural production.
It’s a rigorous and demanding role, one that also calls for Erickson to appear as Julia in the Friday and Sunday performances and McSparrin Oldenburg to dance Julia on Saturday night.
What are the physical requirements of a role like “Giselle Deslondes”?
It has been a wonderful and rewarding challenge, dancing the role of Giselle in this season’s production of Maya Taylor’s “Giselle Deslondes.” Her choreography is physically hard —demanding both strong ballet and contemporary techniques. The role requires the dancer to have the strength to preform technically difficult turns and jumps while maintaining the freedom of the spine to evoke a sense of abandonment of classical lines.
The role also pushes you to merge technique with dramatic interpretation. I love acting, and I find a great sense of release telling a story while dancing. The role pushes you to experience a whirlwind of emotions from all-encompassing love to intense anger and sadness until Giselle finally goes mad and overcome with her heart condition and dies.
When Simone Messmer danced the role of Giselle with Miami City Ballet she said, “it was one of the first times as a ballerina that I let everything go and did not question where I was.” It is so true. When I am in the moment and my emotions are high, I have a sense of freedom from worrying about whether or not my technique is perfect. I am able to reach a state of flow in my performance where I am actually almost unaware of where my body is. . . . it is just moving. For me, being able to reach that state is the most rewarding aspect of dance. It’s what I strive for in every performance.”
What kind of research did you do? You talked about the physicality of the choreography, but how did you go about accessing the emotional core of the role?
In order to prepare emotionally for the role, I have done a lot of thinking and reminiscing on times in my life where I have felt the way Giselle does. The ballet moves quickly, so being able to access and trigger those emotions honestly on stage requires some soul searching.
Balanchine called “Giselle” the Hamlet of ballet. Does your approach to “Giselle Deslondes” differ from Kellis’s? How?
I think “Giselle” has been compared to Hamlet because people come to see the show to see the different interpretations of the same story. Every dancer dances it differently and brings their own interpretation of the emotional drama.
Kellis and I (while often mistaken for the same person) dance differently and express feelings differently, so while the choreography is the same, our interpretation of the movement and emotions through our bodies is very different.
About Gretchen Erickson
Erickson’s training provides the physical and emotion center of her Giselle, beginning with work with Carol Angin at Louisiana Dance Theatre and performances at Regional Dance America Festivals, Jazz Dance World Congress, and the Tanzsommer Festival in Austria and Germany.
Additional training came from the Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and the Joffery Ballet School in New York. A scholarship to the BFA program at New World School of the Arts led to dancing with Of Moving Colors Contemporary Dance Company.
In 2014, Erickson received a Leverhulme grant for further postgraduate study at Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London, where she graduated with a Masters of Dance Performance. She’s also performed with Transitions Dance Company dancing works by Bawren Tavaziva, Zoi Dimitriou and Miguel Pereira throughout the UK and internationally.
She is also a Pilates teacher at Romney Pilates and a ballet teacher at New Orleans School of Ballet.
Performances are scheduled at the Marigny Opera House, 725 St. Ferdinand St. on Friday, Mar. 23, Saturday, Mar. 24, at 8pm, and Sunday Mar. 25 at 7 p.m. Tickets $40/$25 (students and seniors) are available at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3322648 or at the door. Additional information: www.marignyoperahouse.org.