San Diego Ballet’s weekend presentation of “Giselle,” featuring a pair of principal dancers who fell in love in real life, has come to fruition.
The show has been rescheduled twice due to the pandemic, so all hidden rehearsals and many theatrical prep details have been put on hold, casting a shadow over the future staging of the production.
But earlier this month, artistic director Javier Velasco received a sign that all would be well.
He was preparing a historical narrative to accompany an excerpt from the show for high school students and discovered that the Romantic era ballet had started on June 28, 1841.
“I was born on June 28, 1961, so it was created 120 years before my birthday,” Velasco said. “It was like, ‘Oh! That’s great.’ It was the first ballet I’ve ever seen, so I guess it’s fate.
Velasco wants the story to be tied to San Diegans, so he changed the setting from medieval Europe to a mission in colonial Spanish California.
The traditional version of the two-act ballet tells the story of Giselle, a young peasant girl with a heart who falls in love with Albrecht, a wealthy young man who plays with her affections. She becomes distraught, dies of a broken heart, and finds herself among the Wilis, a group of ghostly spirits despised by their lovers. Led by Myrtha, their queen, the women take revenge in the night by dancing the men to death from exhaustion.
The Wilis summon Giselle from her grave and choose Albrecht as their next victim, but Giselle’s forgiving soul frees him from their grasp.
Velasco’s version was inspired by the landscape of Old Town San Diego. The Wilis are called Fantasmas, or ghosts, and their costumes reflect Mexican culture, with floral headdresses and dresses with bodices. A local mission chaplain replaces the role of Giselle’s mother and the evil Myrtha is a La Llorona, a vengeful ghost.
“I do a lot of theatrical work, and with Shakespeare they often take productions set in one moment and put them in another to bring out certain themes,” Velasco said. “And if we’re dealing with upper and lower classes, it’s much more immediate to stage it in San Diego, rather than trying to transport my audience to the wine country of 19th century Europe.”
Classical ballet dancers covet the emotionally moving and technically challenging roles of Giselle and Albrecht, played by newly married San Diego Ballet directors Stephanie Maiorano and Tonatiuh Gomez. Gomez was born in Mexico City and is also president of Fundacion Tonatiuh Gomez, a non-profit organization that supports artists and young dancers through workshops and alliances.
The couple met when Gomez was invited to join the company four years ago and danced the role of Mowgli in “The Jungle Book.”
Maiorano has been part of the San Diego Ballet for a dozen years.
“I thought he jumped really high and had a smile that covered his whole face,” Maiorano said of their first meeting. “I’ve seen a lot of guys come and go in this business and by far he’s the best. It caught my attention. But I didn’t feel anything romantic – until we started dancing together.
Gomez was initially bullied by Maiorano, who grew up in Rancho Bernardo and began intensive training as a child.
“At first, I was excited but I was afraid of ruining everything,” Gomez said. “Steph is really charismatic and when we were dancing I loved how she moved. Her training is so good and she is expressive. She is small, like a feather, so it is good to associate with her. makes me feel more secure and confident.
Maiorano and Gomez tied the knot in a small ceremony in 2020 at the height of the pandemic and currently live in University City.
“It was the first time I did nothing,” Maiorano said. “The ballet was closed. I did not teach and I have been a ballet dancer since the age of 9. I had time to think and be a person. I knew I wanted to be with him and he wanted to be with me.
At a recent rehearsal, the pair showed off their chemistry and talent.
When the Fantasmas rush towards Albrecht intending to dance him to his death, Gomez must leap into the air and perform the entrechat six (six crosses), an exact mid-air foot shear.
After several times, Albrecht, exhausted, falls to the ground, heaving himself up from the effort.
Gomez is able to put a significant amount of air between his feet and the ground and when he collapsed and watched Maiorano pirouette at the other end of the studio, she smiled appreciatively and waved. from the hand.
“It’s the signature death move,” she later said. “Once he starts doing entrechat six, it’s like you’re going to die now.”
Like many star ballerinas, Maiorano has dreamed since his adolescence of dancing the role of Giselle. His smooth, slow-motion arm movements and jumps with soft landings bring an ethereal quality to the role.
“I don’t have a lot of similarities to the character, but the music brings it out of you,” she said. “Giselle is so innocent, naive and sheltered. And she is so in love. I know that feeling. And I let myself go.
The San Diego Ballet presents “Giselle”
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Or: Balboa Theater, 868 Fourth Ave., Downtown
In line: sandiegotheatres.org
Luttrell is a freelance writer.