Queen of the Wilis

22 April 2015 | By admin

In Act I of Giselle, the curtain falls on a bucolic village torn apart by madness, grief and loss. In Act II, it rises on another world altogether – the shadowy moonlit realm of the Wilis. This is Myrtha’s moment; for the first long scene of the act, the Queen of the Wilis drifts in and out of her glades, sheds her veil, and dances – first slowly, with long, held-breath penchés; and then faster and faster, with jetés and turns, as if exulting in the life returning to her limbs after the long day under the earth.

Dimity Azoury. Photography Jeff Busby

Finally, in one of the eeriest and most beautiful moments of the ballet, Myrtha summons her dead maidens from their woodland graves. Even when the focus of the act shifts from Myrtha to Giselle and Albrecht, she is a vital part of the drama, an implacable force willing Albrecht to his death – he is only saved by Giselle’s tenderness and the tolling of the morning bell.

Dimity Azoury. Photography Jeff Busby

What qualities must a dancer bring to Myrtha? For Maina Gielgud, who staged The Australian Ballet’s production of Giselle in 2015, Myrtha was something of a signature role; she danced it some 200 times in her career (“that’s a lot of grand jetés!). She shared with us some of what she told the dancers in their coaching sessions.

Valerie Tereshchenko. Photography Lynette Wills

“With [the 2015] crop of Myrthas, I stressed the queenly part of it a lot, her power over both her wili subjects and any man who comes nearby. This was because most of the dancers cast in the role were more naturally Romantic in the quality of their dancing.  I think now that they have performed it a few times, it will be possible for them to also use the other side of Myrtha – before she brings the wilis in from their graves, she can revel in her love of dancing, and only show her power once she summons the wilis. When I performed Myrtha, I was intent on using the idea of her enjoying her dancing at the beginning – as I wished to prove to anyone who might be paying attention that I would also be a good Giselle!

Dimity Azoury and artists of The Australian Ballet. Photography Lynette Wills

I talk of Myrtha as a demi-character role – although the dancing is very classical, the dramatic demands are demi-character. Nowadays dancers tend to depict her simply as cold, but I believe she is cruel and dominant, she enjoys her revenge! The mime as well as the dancing needs a lot of epaulement and style.

Valerie Tereshchenko. Photography Lynette Wills

Since the dancing is over in the first part of act II, it is great fun standing in the corner, 'managing' everything that comes to pass, and making the audience pay attention to who is making everyone dance – in just the right proportion, not upstaging – but making sure they know!

Ako Kondo and artists of The Australian Ballet. Photography Jeff Busby

Myrtha and her wilis are coming to Sydney in April for an exclusive season of Maina Gielgud's Giselle. Secure your tickets