An updated adaptation of one of the best-known ballets opens the Marigny Opera Ballet’s third season Friday night at the Marigny Opera House.
Based on the two-act 1841 ballet classic “Giselle,” by Adolphe Adam, the new work, a world premiere, is titled “Giselle Deslondes” and is set in New Orleans in the 1930s.
Eight members of the Marigny Opera House's resident dance company, led by Kellis McSparrin Oldenburg in the title role, will perform to an original score by New Orleans composer Tucker Fuller and original choreography by Maya Taylor.
The New Resonance Chamber Orchestra conducted by Francis Scully will provide the musical accompaniment.
In the original “Giselle” storyline, a peasant girl and a young nobleman fall in love and are happily dancing together until it is revealed that he is engaged to another woman. Giselle is heartbroken and she dies — but comes back as a spirit.
In her spectral form, she meets a group of female spirits called the Wilis whose hearts were similarly broken by men in their real lives and they seek to punish them by dancing them to death. The Wilis try to do the same to Albrecht, the young man who broke Giselle’s heart, but she still loves him and spares his life.
In the new version of the story, the storyline remains basically the same, but the first act takes place in a Depression-era New Orleans dance hall, and the second act is set in a local cemetery. Marigny Opera House Executive Director Dave Hurlbert recommended the new local settings.
Opposite Oldenburg, as the unfaithful Uptown New Orleans aristocrat Archer, is Christian Delery. Other cast members include Gretchen Erickson, John Bozeman, Ashlie Russell, Joshua Bell, Lauren Guynes and Katie Strahl.
Describing the dancers’ movements as “more contemporary than classical,” Taylor said this updated version will feature dances that were popular during the 1920s and ’30s, including a polka, a fox trot, a waltz and the Charleston. The dancers’ shoes and costumes also will be reflective of that period.
“There are some hints from the pantomime in the original ballet that I was paying homage to, so I added those in there," Taylor said. "But movement wise, it’s completely new.
“One of my favorite parts of the ballet is where people dance until they die. It’s very physical and demanding. I really give the dancers a run for their money, but they’re professionals and they’re up to it.”
“It is definitely challenging, both physically and emotionally,” Oldenburg agreed. “But it’s a really fun role to play as a dancer. I get to experience all these different emotions within an hour time span. I’m in love and I’m overjoyed and then I’m heartbroken and I go crazy and I die, all within the first act.
"In the second act, I am a spirit and it has different challenges. I have to find a softer, more ghostlike quality to my movements. I have a big duet at the finale with Archer. We have a lot of lifts and jumps, but it is a little less taxing than the first act. So I’m not worried about the physicality of the role. I can handle it."
For Fuller, the task of creating a new musical score for an adaptation of an instantly recognizable classic posed its own set of challenges. However, rather than attempt to create an entirely new score along classical lines, much of what he composed had its roots in the music of the 1920s and ’30s.
“I composed this for a jazz group from this era,” Fuller said, adding that the instrumentation consists of strings, piano, two trumpets, trombone, two saxophones, piccolo, percussion and banjo.
“All the music is structured like that; dance music of the period set into the context of ballet,” Fuller said.
For style guidance, he used the examples of the 1938 Shostakovich “Jazz Suite No. 2” and the Stravinsky “Ebony Concerto,” composed for clarinetist and big band leader Woody Herman in 1945. He also consulted with the New Orleans-based New Leviathan Oriental Fox Trot Orchestra, which specializes in music from that time period.
“It’s been a great and fun learning experience for me,” Fuller said.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Nov. 18-20
WHERE: Marigny Opera House, 725 St. Ferdinand St., New Orleans
TICKETS: $35/$25 students and seniors
INFO: (504) 948-9998 or marignyoperahouse.org