First Look at Joshua Beamish @giselle

Photo of Catherine Hurlin by Craig Foster Jocelyn Delifer took a rehearsal sneak peek of Joshua Bemish’s @giselle a few weeks ago. Jocelyn works in New York as a financial analyst and cultivates a balance between his day job and ballet training:

Joshua Beamish, the young Vancouver-native choreographer (see my interview with Joshua from last year), presented a first look rehearsal of his recent work at the Martha Graham school in New York. @giselle is a modern interpretation of the iconic romantic ballet that will use motion-captured digital projections and visual effects. A few ballet VIPs attended the preview including Royal Ballet Director Kevin O’Hare, choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, and New York City Ballet Associate Artistic Director Wendy Whelan, all friends of Joshua that have played a critical role in his choreographic journey.

Expectations are high when a choreographer’s ambition is to reimagine a beloved classic and make it contemporary. Joshua’s interpretation of Giselle offers a promising adaptation: he achieved to make Giselle his own, while honoring the original production. Indeed, this piece presents a tribute to Jules Perrot’s 1841 version. The story is brought to the present (references to online dating and its struggles for example) yet the emotions and the drama found in the original Giselle are intact. 

Pantomime, rare in contemporary ballet, has an essential place in this work. While storytelling ballets have been too few in recent works, audiences still seek to be transported by love stories and colorful characters. Here the dancers are committed to carry these emotions. Giselle’s mother in particular will be given a more prominent role than the original version. After all, she is the one who suffers the most from Giselle’s death, as a widow who just lost her only daughter. Beverley Bagg, former Joburg Ballet principal, offers a beautiful interpretation of that character, and her dancing is poignant.

Sadly, the second act was only briefly previewed. Without an extensive corps de ballet, Giselle enthusiasts will regret the irreplaceable Willis grand pas de deux. Although nine Willis including Myrtha and Zulma are represented, a contemporary version can’t measure up to the ghostly atmosphere created by the traditional 24 Willis and their perfect harmony. 

Finally, the fine mix of dancers, soloists and principals of companies such as American Ballet Theatre, Pennsylvania Ballet, and National Ballet of Canada, supports a promising performance. They strive to couple a demanding classical vocabulary (jumps, turns, pointe, batterie etc.) with contemporary movements. Catherine Hurlin, as Giselle, impersonates the fragile girl, and her style, light and joyful, accurately evokes the original Giselle. Joshua chose to give Princess Bathilde a dancing role, and Betsy McBride offers an impeccably haughty interpretation. Harrison James, danseur noble, is a great choice for Albrecht. Joshua’s version of the Peasant Pas de Deux showcases the main characters through a series of solo variations, with steps borrowed from the original choreography. Sterling Baca, as Hilarion, executes his variation with confidence and strength. 

@giselle will premier at the Vancouver Playhouse in Vancouver British Columbia, September 5-7. Ticket prices range from $35-$99 CA.