Studying ballet as a teenager, Katy Pyle felt close to Giselle, the heroine broken by the love of classical ballet of 1841.
A naïve young peasant girl who loves to dance, Giselle succumbs to the attentions of a nobleman in disguise, and when her betrayal is revealed, she goes mad and dies, moving on to a predatory spirit realm known as Wilis. The plot twist of betrayal resonated with Pyle, who would go on to become a choreographer, and in 2011 found Ballez, a New York-based troupe that is reinventing ballet to celebrate – and be more inclusive – queer, transgender, no binary and gender – nonconforming people and expression.
At 16, Pyle said, “I had been betrayed by my one true love, which was ballet.” The choreographer recalls being criticized by teachers for not conforming to ballet ideals of ethereal female physicality and movement.
“I have been criticized a lot for the strength and power I have in my body. A teacher specifically told me that I looked like a Mack truck.
Pyle, who identifies as a genderqueer lesbian and uses them / them pronouns, says the bashing was devastating, triggering an eating disorder and other trauma. Irony too: “I had the impression at 16 that I was the perfect Giselle! Pyle remembers. After all, they shared this heroine’s pain and dedication to dancing. And yet, says Pyle, “I never got to play Giselle, because I didn’t look like Giselle the way we think of her – this very frail, light and delicate young girl.”
Years later, Pyle’s affinity for the character paid off: Ballez released “Giselle of Loneliness”, a choreographed and conducted piece by Pyle that conceptually struggles with the traditional strict and arguably exclusive, conformist and outdated standards of the ballet. Aired as part of the digital season of the Joyce Theater, the production Ballez associates seven dancers, all assigned to women or of female experience, with an imaginative framing concept: they compete to play Giselle and face all the oppressive demands that such a canonical role implies. Interpreters representing a host and judges complete the hearing-style procedure.
Audiences who watched the show’s live broadcast on June 10 also participated as judges, voting in real time – an interactive dimension that implicitly recognizes the responsibility of ballet fans to perpetuate the state of play. conservative spirit of the art form. (The show will also air on demand until June 23 on Joyce’s website.)
“Giselle of Loneliness” reflects the perspective Pyle gained after this painful period as a young ballet student. After opting for a contemporary dance floor at their arts-oriented high school in North Carolina, Pyle attended Hollins University in Roanoke, Va., And studied experimental and postmodern dance. They moved to New York and performed in works by experimental dance artist John Jasperse, playwright Young Jean Lee (“Straight White Men”) and others.
But the stages of bravery of the ballet and the centerpieces of the story always exerted a mystique. Pyle wanted to go back to the world of folds and pirouettes, but “my way.” With my people at the center.
Pyle founded Ballez and, along with the queer, transgender, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming artists of this company, set out to reinvent ballet’s narrative masterpieces. “L’oiseau de feu, un Ballez” (2013) revolutionized the 1910 creation of choreographer Michel Fokine by installing a lesbian princess and a “tranimal” firebird. “Sleeping Beauty & the Beast” (2016) reflected on desire and militant history.
It was obvious to turn to “Giselle”, loved since her beginnings in 19th century Paris with a choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot and music by Adolphe Adam. Conceived by the poet and French ballet fan Théophile Gautier, at a time when the romantic movement was more interested in the supernatural, “Giselle” was inspired by Slavic legends about the Wilis, young girls who died before their wedding day and , in the afterlife, danced living men to death. Giselle finds herself a neophyte Wili, but when her noble ex visits his grave in a forest, she saves him, defying the bloodthirsty Queen Wili.
“Giselle” sparked other tributes and artistic metamorphoses, notably “Creole Giselle” from the Dance Theater of Harlem from 1984, designed by Arthur Mitchell and directed by Frederic Franklin. Most recently, in 2016, Akram Khan, a choreographer versed in the classical Indian Kathak dance style, created a buzzing “Giselle” for the English National Ballet.
For “Giselle of Loneliness” (the title of which refers to Radclyffe Hall’s famous 1928 novel “The Well of Loneliness”, about the lesbian experience), Pyle chose dancers who have their own complicated relationships with ballet. This backstory informs the production’s audition-style solos, which consist of “all of the most difficult choreographies that Giselle performs in the production. [original] ballet, pushed together in five minutes, ”in Pyle’s words.
But Ballez’s founder worked with each performer to add touches of autobiographical uniqueness, so the production, Pyle says, is about “the story of the dancers and their ways of coping – the way they suffered.” .
This is certainly the case with MJ Markovitz, who also uses them / them pronouns, and who says their solo displays the “powerful ideals” they have learned to seek out in the competitive dance scene, when grew up in New England. They were successful in this arena, but when it came to more classical dance, their energy and style of movement – perceived to be more masculine – were downsides. The ballet teachers groaned.
“It was only within Ballez that I really discovered that what makes me different – what separates me, sometimes in a typically negative way – is actually a good thing,” says Markovitz.
Towards the end of “Giselle of Loneliness”, the audition-style solos give way to a cathartic group sequence, depicting Pyle’s version of Wilis. And who would want to put aside those crazy dancing fantasies, which are often seen as exacting revenge on men?
“To me the Wilis have always been this really cool community,” Pyle says, adding, jokingly, “Everyone lives together in the woods and kills men, and that sounds like a good time!”
Seriously, they note, the Wili-style community in “Giselle of Loneliness” has an uplifting, not somber resonance that echoes the assertive dynamic Pyle and the rest of the company have created in Ballez himself.
“Our revenge is to find us,” said Pyle. “Finding a space for ourselves in the ballet where we can feel fulfilled and whole. “
“Giselle of Loneliness”, choreographed and directed by Katy Pyle, is available until June 23 on demand at joyce.org/ballez. $ 25.