Ninety years after the ballet was first danced in Vancouver, Giselle is returning to the city as a re-imagined ghost story that includes ghosting partners, hologram ballerinas and a critical examination of social media’s effect on our relationships.
Back then, Kelowna-born choreographer Joshua Beamish was working at the Royal Ballet, and the director gave him four dancers to create a thirty minute contemporary take on a classical ballet.
“Giselle is a love story but it's also a lot about vengeance and forgiveness—how people relate to trauma, hurt, pain and deception,” says Beamish on choosing the ballet. “There's a lot of duality in the way the character’s actions are presented, and so it affords us an opportunity to consider how we relate.”
By the end of the project, Beamish was so happy with the concept and result that he took it upon himself to develop a full-length production, featuring dancers from American Ballet Theatre, The National Ballet of Canada, the Pennsylvania Ballet, Ballet Edmonton, the Alberta Ballet Trainee Program and graduates from SFU, Arts Umbrella, Richmond Academy, Pro Arte, and Tri-City Dance.
“What started off as making work specific to certain dancers has now turned into creating work that could be performed by multiple people over a long lifespan of a production,” says Beamish. “That's kind of exciting because you're making something that's going to live beyond the people who its generated on.”
Since initiating the process, movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up have surfaced, bringing women’s rights to the forefront of social consciousness, which Beamish says strongly influenced his approach to what he describes as a social media ballet.
“If you don’t know the ballet I think it exists as its own story within our own time that people can relate to pretty profoundly,” says Beamish. “If you know the original ballet I've left Easter eggs for you all over the place.”
The classic is based on a German legend, and follows the story of a young peasant girl named Giselle, who dies of a broken heart upon learning her lover is betrothed to another. It turns into a ghost story when The Wilis, supernatural women who dance men to death, summon Giselle from her grave.
In @giselle, the namesake character dies by live-streamed suicide after she’s ghosted by her romantic partner. When she comes back to haunt her male tormentors, she returns as motion-captured animated data particles projected onto live dancers.
As the founder of Joshua Beamish/MOVETHECOMPANY, Beamish’s experience in dance and choreography has earned him many accolades and trips around the world. His experience with technology, however, was non-existent prior to taking on this project.
“I just put it on Facebook like ‘Hey I need a 3D animator, anybody know anybody?’” Beamish says. “It just felt like if we’re going to be making new stories for audiences today, they should reflect the world we live in, which is driven by technology and digital aspects.”
Beamish says the technical process was slow and frustrating, as even the most minute changes to the production could take take a long time to re-render in the files. But @giselle wouldn’t be the same show without the designs and life experience of Brianna Amore, the transgender artist behind the 3D animations.
“Her world perspective is very different than mine, and in that respect, collaboration is the greatest ask we have in moving forward in a more wholly realized understanding of one another,” Beamish says.
While he does not want to dismiss women’s ability to make work about their own experiences, Beamish also doesn’t believe that being male should prevent him from making a ballet with predominantly female characters and story lines.
“At this point if you're making anything as an artist you're opening yourself up to someone thinking you shouldn't be making that,” says Beamish. “But if you’re honest about your intentions and how you’re working with collaborators, I’d hope that people could see past the surface ideas of what we’re able to collectively convey as artists.”
The production involves a 30-member team, half of whom are dancers, as well as a partnership with SADS Canada to raise awareness for Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndromes. To see how this critical heart condition ties into Beamish’s ballet, as well as humans dance with holograms, you can purchase tickets here starting at $35.00.