Welcome to the next in our series of ‘Divertissements’, in which pop-culture critic Martyn Pedler explore ballet’s strange cameo role in film and TV. You can read the earlier instalments here and here.
One of the benefits of writing a TV series about an immortal vampire is that the character’s history can stretch back hundreds of years. In ‘Waiting in the Wings‘, a 2002 episode of Angel, the titular vampire is excited about a touring ballet company who bring their production of Giselle to Los Angeles. He says he first saw them perform in 1890 and “cried like a baby,” adding, “and I was evil!”
When he and his friends attend the ballet in question, Angel realises that it’s not just the choreography that’s the same. It’s the cast, too. They’ve been cursed by a jealous fan to forever repeat the same performance, step by step. As the prima ballerina – played by Summer Glau – says: “I don’t dance. I echo.” Of course, Angel and his team fight to end the curse, and their backstage demon-fighting counterpoints the ballet’s onstage grace.
‘Waiting in the Wings’ was Glau’s first TV role. Despite her years as a ballerina, she later explained, it provided her first opportunity to dance Giselle “in real life”. Angel’s creator, Joss Whedon, went on to cast Glau in a major role in his short-lived (but much loved) sci-fi TV series Firefly. For those who would prefer to see her dance again, Whedon has also been promising to create a short ballet for the screen called The Serving Girl.