Allen Yu (余能盛) decided last year that he would stage Giselle for his Chamber Ballet Taipei (台北室內芭蕾舞團) this year. He remained undeterred when he began to get telephone calls back home in Graz, Austria, at the end of the year from the Metropolitan Hall and others, who told him that this was going to be the year of Giselle in Taipei, with the State Ballet of Georgia performing it in February and the Royal Ballet bringing its full-stage production last month.
The Taiwanese choreographer knew his small company would not be able to compete with the larger foreign troupes in terms of technique or production value — although his ticket prices are a bargain compared with the others — so he decided to update the story a bit and change the setting to present-day Taiwan.
Instead of a forest village somewhere in the Rhineland in the Middle Ages filled with young peasant girls and boys, an aristocratic hunting party and a noble with a roaming eye, the first act is set in a factory, with Giselle as the company’s “office girl,” the general manager (GM) as her love interest and the dancers in more modern dress.
“She is the young girl who cleans the GM’s office; she’s the xiaomeimei (小妹妹, literally “younger sister”) everybody loves. She likes to dance, but has a heart problem. The GM is the prince; they fall in love. Another colleague falls in love with her, but she doesn’t know it. In the family that owns the factory, the daughter is engaged to the GM. It’s a very typical Taiwan soap opera, but I kept the classical ballet style,” Yu said in a telephone interview earlier this week.
“I have an introductory act to show the relationships between the four [main characters] ... so before the story starts the public will understand it,” he said. “The story happens at the end of the work day; the colleague sees them [Giselle and the GM] through the door, then the director comes and tells everyone they have been working so hard they will get more money ... Everyone dances ... they’re having a party. The GM is usually reserved, but he dances one pas de deux with her [Giselle].”
The jealous colleague then forces the showdown that reveals the GM is already engaged, triggering Giselle’s mad scene and heart attack.
Yu said the problem with the traditional Giselle is that Act I “is really boring,” and the love affair between Giselle and Albrecht isn’t believable (“They meet once and then they’re in love”), which is why he wanted to update it and give a bit of a backstory. That his production overlaps the start of Ghost Month and comes just before tomorrow’s Lover’s Day (七夕情人節) is an added bonus for a ballet that is centered on star-crossed lovers and ghosts.
Yu admits the production is a big stretch for his young company — expanded to 36 this year, 24 of them women so he can do a proper Act II in which the Wilis, the ghost-like spirits of young women who died before their wedding day or of unrequited love, take revenge on men by making them dance themselves to death.
As usual with Yu’s now-annual summer shows, the main leads will be danced by imports from Europe: Frenchwoman Julie Gardette, who is with the Finnish National Ballet, will dance Giselle, while the rivals for her hand are Russian Alexandre Katsapov, a principal with the Czech National Ballet Theatre, and Michal Stipa, a soloist with the Czech troupe. They have been in Taipei for several weeks rehearsing with the company.