If you like a good love story, then get thee to the Auditorium Theatre this weekend, poste-haste. A romantic tale on par with Romeo and Juliet takes over the stage with some of the top ballet dancers in the world bringing the action to life. Originally created in 1841 for the Paris Opera Ballet (they are coming to Chicago this summer for the first time ever!), Giselle tells the story of a young peasant girl who falls in love with a prince, only to find out he is betrothed to another. She goes mad, dies of a broken heart, then proceeds to come back from the grave to save her love from an untimely death. Drama.
American Ballet Theatre (ABT) brings its version of “the quintessential Romantic ballet” to town for five performance starting tomorrow. The lead roles of Giselle, Prince Albrecht and Myrta, Queen of the Wilis are some of the most sought after in ballet. On top of difficult technical feats, the dancer must add emotion and dramatic acting skills to aid the plot while making it all look easy. And the women are dead in Act II! It takes a tremendous amount of technique to do a series of entré chats and look as if you are other-worldly. Of course, there are artistic choices to be made. Some Albrecht’s play the cad who later tragically regrets his actions. Some Giselle’s commit suicide with her lover’s sword. For real-life couple Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews (both soloists who will be debuting as Giselle and Albrecht in ABT’s version this Sunday, March 25th) they rely on the power of love. Matthew’s Albrecht is truly in love with Giselle and Kajiya’s Giselle dies of a broken heart, yet relies on her love for him to save his life in Act II. “Albrecht is a role you aspire to achieve and work on,” said Matthews. “It’s more than just about dance, you have to bring them into your world.” Kajiya has the dual challenge of the dramatic mad scene at the end of Act I and then switching into Wili-mode for Act II. She’s been working with her coach Irina Kolpakova on the nuances of the character. “In Act II, the upper body has to change,” she said. “You have to be very much forward. That helps with the illusion.” But Matthews adds, “It takes a lot of work to make her look weightless.”
The duo have performed together often outside of the company and have even performed Act II of Giselle together, but they have never performed the full-length ballet together until now. The couple met as teenagers while in ABT’s Studio Company (now ABT II) and have been together romantincally for eight years, literally growing up physically and artistically side by side. ( I spoke with them separately from NY on consecutive days off.) “We have a huge passion for ballet,” Kajiya said. “We love and know each other so well. We work really well together in and out of the studio.” Matthews agreed, “We both want the same things and we’re both willing to put in the time…refining and honing, growing and changing…to become better artists. We have the same goals.” With vastly different backgrounds – she is from Japan and moved to China to study ballet at age ten, he grew up in Texas – they both came to know of ABT via the screen. Matthews remembers watching Baryshnikov on television and Kajiya saw videos of the company at school and on the big screen in the movie Centerstage. It is another love story that has them ending up at the same place together now.
They have fond memories of Chicago having danced in the first two years of the Chicago Dancing Festival at Pritzker Pavilion. Some may remember them as well from a July 2010 guest appearance on So You Think You Can Dance, where they performed the second act pas de deux from Don Quixote. “Every few minutes, someone would come by to remind us that the show was live,” said Kajiya. Executive Producer and judge Nigel Lithgoe had seen her perform at a gala and asked her if she’d like to perform on the show. Matthews said, “The air conditioning was on high, which made the floor slick like ice. Once we were out there dancing, it was fun.”
Come see Kajiya and Matthews fall in love again on stage this Sunday with live music by the Chicago Sinfonietta. This story of romance, love, betrayal and forgiveness, set to the achingly gorgeous score by Adolphe Adam is not to be missed.
American Ballet Theatre performs Giselle at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy.
Thurs & Friday, March 22-23 at 7:30 pm, Saturday, March 24 at 2 & 8 pm, and Sunday, March 25 at 2 pm.
Tickets are $32-$137. Call 800.982.2787 or visit ticketmaster.com.