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February 22nd, 2012 HEATHER WISNER | Dance
 

Giselle (Oregon Ballet Theatre)

What it’s like to dance ballet’s toughest role.

perf_giselle_3816CHAUNCEY PARSONS AND YUKA IINO - IMAGE: Andy Batt

Yuka Iino has been feeling a little, well, emotional lately: “I tear up for small little things, not necessarily things that are making me sad,” she confesses via email. “I cry for something [that] makes me happy, too. The other day my friends [were] surprised and confused, because all of a sudden, I was crying. They were like, ‘What’s going on?’” 

What’s going on is Iino—along with Oregon Ballet Theatre colleagues Xuan Cheng, Julia Rowe and Haiyan Wu—preparing to dance the title role in OBT’s upcoming production of Giselle, a formidable challenge in the repertory and historically a star-making turn for many a dancer. No pressure or anything.

Giselle is about the complexities of love. If you’ve ever fallen for someone who wasn’t what they seemed, you’ll relate. Its dramatic trajectory is boy meets girl, girl falls hard for boy, boy wasn’t serious, girl goes mad with grief. 

“I think of Giselle as the ultimate loss-of-innocence story,” Rowe says. “She’s fragile emotionally and physically. And when she falls head over heels for this guy, and he seems to love her in return, she is so ecstatic. But then he turns out to pretty much be a player, and she can’t handle it. It’s heartbreaking.”

Generations of viewers have loved Giselle and generations of ballerinas have dreamt of performing it. San Francisco Ballet’s Lola de Avila is coaching the dancers in the Romantic-era style of the late 1800s, when Marius Petipa set it on the Imperial Russian Ballet. That style—“very strong technique, beautiful lines, solid balance, very light jumps, fast feet movement, soft and beautiful arms,” Cheng says—tests performers in every way. 

“It is an ultimate role for a ballerina to dance,” Iino says. “Physically very demanding, of course, but also artistically, the dancer has [to] be mature enough to understand what is happening in her life.” It’s the kind of assignment that can take over your life. “Mentally, I think about the role all the time,” Wu says. “Even when I am cooking or resting, I still think about the role.”

But when the curtain comes up, viewers and dancers can expect a payoff. “Every little movement has a purpose in the story,” Rowe says. “It’s a very clean way of moving, but it’s not dull. Especially in the first act, the dancing is mostly just there to support the emotion. I like that about Giselle.” And, she adds, “The story is definitely still relevant. I think we’ve all had our hearts broken at one point or another.”


SEE IT: Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., obt.org. 7:30 pm Saturday, 2 pm Sunday, Feb. 25-26; 7:30 pm Thursday-Friday, 2 and 7 pm Saturday, March 1-3. $23-$156. 

 
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