Ty King-Wall on Giselle

Posted on 06 August 2018 By Rose Mulready

As we prepare Maina Gielgud’s celebrated production of Giselle, Principal Artist Ty King-Wall talks to us about finding the character of Albrecht, partnering a ghost and the perils of performing with live dogs.

Giselle is one of my all-time favourite ballets. I would take any chance I get to dance it – I would dance Giselle in a broom cupboard. It’s a real privilege to get to do it again. To me it’s the perfect ballet. It’s not a particularly long ballet, but so much happens, and everything that happens is so important to the story. It still resonates strongly because its themes are still relevant today. It’s a timeless story.

Ty King-Wall and Amber Scott. Photography Lynette Wills

This is the third time I’ve danced Giselle, and each time I try to bring a fresh outlook to it. The first time I did it was in my first year with the company. I was standing up the back, in the hunting party, holding the two dogs. It’s actually one of my most memorable moments on stage. I was holding the borzois’ lead in one hand, and supporting a bunch of pheasants on a rack with the other. Borzois have these long, slippery necks, and one of them got a bit antsy and slipped his collar. I had both my hands full so I couldn’t grab him, and I had visions of him running around the stage during this really powerful moment in the ballet. Luckily my fellow dancer Ben Davis saw the whole thing, and he grabbed the dog and quietly ushered him off into the wings.

So that was my first experience of the ballet, and it was great to get a taste of it from the best seat in the house, so to speak. I danced the Act II pas de deux a couple of times, and then in 2015 I danced Albrecht for the first time, with Amber [Scott, now Ty’s wife] as my Giselle. Then I got the chance to do it again on our regional tour, with Dana Stephensen. That was really nice, because you’re performing in smaller theatres, closer to the audience, and the acting felt very natural, you didn’t have to project so far; it felt like you could just be yourself. 

Charles Thompson, Natasha Kusen and the borzois. Photography Jeff Busby

Each time, I take a different tack with the character. In the past I’ve tried to make Albrecht quite sympathetic, to look for his redeeming qualities. But I think this time around, I like the idea of him being more thoughtless, a bit more selfish. He’s quite dismissive of the peasants’ beliefs, he has a sense of superiority. It feels like that will make the transformation and catharsis of the character in Act II even stronger, as it’s a greater contrast. So I may look at giving him a harder edge.

It’s a hard ballet to perform, stamina-wise, especially Act II. That stamina comes with repetition; you have to rehearse it well, just do it over and over again. But what I’ve found is that when you’re really inside the story, the steps have a way of taking care of themselves. It’s not like that with every ballet we do: but with Giselle, if you’re following the story, it relaxes you, it calms you. If you’ve rehearsed it properly and you know the fitness is there, there are no demons and nightmares in the choreography. When you put yourself in the character, the story takes you through the ballet.

Ty King-Wall and Amber Scott. Photography Lynette Wills

The 32 entrechat six that Albrecht does in Act II – they’re fun! It’s a good challenge. The audience plays a part in this one. They often start applauding half-way through, and that really does give you a lift. So please, everyone, start clapping as soon as you want! At that point in time, you’ve done the pas de deux, you’ve done the solo – you’ve done a lot of dancing, and then you have to do those 32 entrechat six [jumps in which the dancer crosses the legs sicx times before landing]. And you do feel like you’re about to expire, just as Albrecht is in the story. When the audience cheers you on, it gets you through, it really helps.

That step is really about rebound. Once you get the rhythm and the coordination, one step leads you into the next, you get a head of steam up. And then, of course, when you stop, you feel your legs again and realise how tired you are. At that point, Albrecht falls to the ground, and you don’ t really have to act!

Ty King-Wall. Photography Jeff Busby

The Romantic style for the male dancer … There’s a softness to the port de bras, there’s a way of holding your head, there’s a gentle undulation to the arms. When you’re partnering, you have to be aware that the girl’s weight is not going to be in the usual place, because the Romantic technique requires her to lean forward. There’s actually a lot of counter-balancing – you push her forward over an arabesque rather than having her on her leg: it’s an elongated, almost horizontal line. There’s a lot of flow, and there’s some beautiful moments when you create that ethereal quality by the way you partner, especially the way you lift the girl. You can let the dress move, you can let her legs drift. It’s easier said than done – it takes a while to get the hang of it, but it’s beautiful when you get it. 

Ty King-Wall and Amber Scott. Photography Lynette Wills / Ty King-Wall. Photography Jeff Busby

We’re lucky here at The Australian Ballet. We have such great female principal artists, and I’ve been fortunate to get to work with the women that I have. As a male dancer, it’s the most important thing you’ll do. There’s a lot of trust and responsibility involved, and you have to feel the weight of it. It’s always your job as the guy to respond to your partner and their needs: that comes first.

I think at the end of my career, when I look back, that will be the most rewarding part of it: the partnerships, the ballerinas you’ve shared these moments with, that will be the highlight. You’re defined through the women that you get to work with.

Ty King-Wall and Amber Scott. Photography Jeff Busby