Arts Feature

Ethereal Giselle Fuses Drama and Dance

Koger Center: Fri and Sat, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1

By Amy Overstreet
Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Koger Center: Fri and Sat, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1

Giselle is one of the oldest Romantic ballets; it premiered in Paris on June 28, 1841, with Carlotta Grisi performing the lead role of Giselle. It was an instant hit. Trained in part by Jules Perrot, the ballet’s choreographer, it was said that Grisi embodied the perfect mix of fragility and fire to tackle the complex role.

Yet, Grisi ultimately chose the poet Theophile Gautier over Perrot as her love interest. For it was Gautier that presented her with the Heinrich Heine tale, Giselle ou Les Wilis, upon which the ballet of unrequited love is based. The story won her heart, and the hearts of ballet lovers all over the world.

Columbia City Ballet presents Giselle this weekend at the Koger Center, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. 

The story was so compelling that composer Adolphe Adam wrote the score in just one week. Set in two acts, the ballet tells the story of a peasant girl, Giselle, who falls in love with Albrecht, a nobleman. He falls for her too — but is betrothed to another.

When Giselle discovers his duplicity, she goes mad, dies and enters the world of the Wilis. These are supernatural maidens who died from heartbreak after being betrayed by their fiancés. Although lovely, they are also vengeful. Wilis roam the forest at night capturing young men and compelling them to dance themselves to death.

Columbia City Ballet Principal dancer Regina Willoughby will dance the lead role of Giselle with Journey Wilkes-Davis as Prince Albrecht. This is Willoughby’s premiere in the demanding role, which requires both dancing prowess and acting skill.

FT: How did you prepare for the role?

Regina Willoughby: Character roles are the most rewarding to dance because of the responsibility I have to tell the story through music. I believe everyone in the audience can relate to or sympathize with some aspect of a character in the ballet. It is most gratifying when the audience is moved or even changed by a performance. There are many experiences in my life that I draw from to evoke the emotion needed to take the audience there. Our ballet mistress, Patricia Miller, coaches me in every aspect of the ballet. Her insight and support is invaluable.

FT: Give us a glimpse into your interpretation of Giselle, the many-faceted peasant girl.

RW: To me, Giselle is a loving, spirited and naïve young woman. The fragility of her health doesn’t hold her back from living her life to the fullest. She falls for Albrecht and loves him with every fiber of her being and without fear. This may be to her detriment, but she would not have wanted it any other way. I have embraced the emotions she feels to make the role my own. The music carries me through the ballet and my final exit is upon me before I realize it.

Through my preparation for the role, I have studied numerous ballerinas’ portrayal of Giselle. Natalia Makarova, Alina Cojocaru, and Marianela Nunez are a few of my favorites, but it has been a cumulative inspiration. So many impeccable ballerinas have graced the stage in this character and I feel honored to have the opportunity to do so myself.

FT: One of the most memorable scenes in the production is when Giselle discovers that Albrecht is already engaged, and she goes mad. How did you prepare for the intensity of this scene?

RW: The most important aspect of preparation for me in the mad scene is knowing the music inside and out. Every note, every moment, has dire significance. Once the music is ingrained in me, I can utterly let go. I can become the brokenhearted, disparaged, destroyed person that Giselle is at that moment.

FT: What is your personal/professional relationship with Prince Albrecht/Journey?

RW: Journey and I have partnered together on many occasions, so I have a respect and trust with him, which is imperative. He is such a hard worker and has continued to grow as an exceptional artist. He loves his wife (Columbia City Ballet dancer Anna Porter) in such a precious way, so I know he understands the consuming power of love. My amazing husband of 17 years has given me a profound cognizance of everything love is. I believe we bring these life experiences to the stage to create these believable characters. It is almost an out-of-body experience to transform into another character.

FT: How would you rate this ballet in terms of difficulty in relation to the other leading roles you’ve performed?

RW: The movement quality differs so greatly from Act One to Act Two — more so than any other role I have danced. Giselle goes from an energetic young woman to an ethereal ghost. Making the spirit form of her float everywhere seamlessly is a welcome challenge. It is exhausting and difficult, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

FT: Why do you think that Giselle has been dubbed “one of the most coveted roles in the ballet world?”

RW: The score by Adolphe Adam is phenomenal, which is one of the things that draws me. The diversity, emotion, and complexity of the character make dancing this role rewarding. From an outside perspective, this ballet is incredibly moving and beautiful. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of bringing this classic to life?

Tickets range from $16 to $39. Each performance includes a pre-show talk. Tickets are on sale at the Coliseum Box Office and all Capital Ticket outlets. Charge by phone by calling 251-2222 or online at

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