The performance of Giselle features an area native
By Kyle Magin
Giselle, an iconic performance in the world of ballet, tells the story of a young peasant girl who falls in love with an unattainable interest, her death and the triumph of love over evil. It’s performed the world over by top ballet companies, one of the great pillars of the genre, along with Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.
On July 30, it’s coming to Sand Harbor and the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, with an area native in the lead role.
It’ll mark a rare occurrence for the Northern Nevada/Tahoe area—true classical ballets, partitioned into acts and set to classical music, are major undertakings and therefore rarely performed in areas without permanent, full-time ballet companies. Talent from the world over—and right nextdoor—are coming together to make it happen.
Erica Chipp, raised in Gardnerville, Nev., will take the stage on the East Shore in the title role, her first-ever performance in Giselle.
“The ballet itself is beautiful, it’s one of the most beloved in the ballet world,” says Chipp, who was cast in the role by her former teacher and current artistic director of the Sierra Nevada Ballet, Rosine Bena.
Bena first laid eyes on Chipp when she was an adolescent training at the Western Nevada Performing Arts Center in Carson City. A former professional ballerina, she recognized Chipp’s skill set early on, she says.
“I saw almost immediately that she had great potential as a ballet dancer,” Bena says. “Ballet is an elite art form and she’s an elite athlete… nine tenths of people who train for ballet don’t have what it takes to become a professional, and with her work ethic and attitude, she has that ability.”
Chipp studied under Bena for a time through middle school, when Bena, who comes from a family of ballet performers, sensed a dearth of fellow talented dancers and professionals in the area, she says. That’s when she encouraged Chipp to attend the Harid Conservatory in Florida, where she could daily spend time with elite dancers and instructors honing her talent. Chipp accepted a scholarship and left home at 14 to train throughout high school.
“There was no way for kids in this area to see professional dancers at that time (the late 1990s),” Bena says. Her first effort at a professional ballet company in Reno folded after her partner suffered injuries in an auto accident in 1996, and Sierra Nevada Ballet, a part-time company based in Reno, wouldn’t debut until 2001. “When kids can see professional dancers, they get the idea and really come up a level.”
Chipp worked in Rhode Island with Festival Ballet Providence after her education before eventually making her way to San Francisco, where she is a dancer for the Smuin Ballet.
Her work with the company requires her to mainly dance contemporary ballet—a more athletic form of the art danced to contemporary music. Chipp, while graceful in demonstrating some of the pantomiming from the performance, has a decidedly athletic build, with long brown hair cascading over toned shoulders and arms. She prefers contemporary to classical, but jumped at the chance to perform in Giselle when Bena contacted her about it.
“There’s something about classic ballet that’s so beautiful and precise,” Chipp says. “I was classically-trained, and I found myself missing it a little bit.”
Rehearsals began about two weeks ago for the ballet, which includes 30 members.
“It was my dream to do Giselle again”
Bena comes from a family where both parents were ballet dancers.
“I saw my first Giselle when I was three and I told my mother then that I would do it someday,” she says. “It took me until 27 to do.”
Now, she’s in charge of the performance at Sand Harbor, pulling together a large cast and hoping to pull off the first full-length, classical ballet in the festival’s history. Sierra Nevada’s partnership with the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival extends back to 2005.
“For each of our ballets we poll the audience to see what they think, and they have always said that the classical performances were their favorite,” Bena says. “So, I said, let’s go for it. Let’s do a full classical ballet. It’s an amazing undertaking, there are so many dancers and costumes…it also takes a lot of artistry and style.”
For Albrecht, the male lead in Giselle, Bena casted Maykel Solas, a Cuban-born and trained dancer from Ballet San Jose in the South Bay. The three—Solas, Bena and Chipp—previously worked together in performances over the summer of 2009 for Sierra Nevada Ballet. Solas has performed in Giselle before and says it is a more compelling ballet than the classic most people are familiar with—Nutcracker.
“It’s a beautiful ballet because it has a lot of conflict,” Solas says, hinting at Albrecht’s juggling of two loves. “It’s about real life.”
Both leads have been hard at work ahead of the performance; rehearsing and taking ballet classes daily to keep become show-ready.
“The more you practice, the more self-confidence you have on the stage,” says Solas.
The stage at Sand Harbor presents different challenges and welcome differences from shows at indoor venues, the performers say. The stage has a slight rise from the front to the back and no temperature control, leaving the performers at the mercy of Mother Nature. Conversely, Sand Harbor is close to home for Chipp, whose family is still based in Gardnerville and can only make a few performances each year, so the July 30 crowd will be packed with supporters, she adds.
“Whenever I have family or friends come to see me perform, it really pumps me up,” Chipp says.
Whoever joins them on the beach that night is in for a treat, Bena says.
“Giselle touches everybody, it gets into your soul.”
If you go…
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 30
Where: Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe State Park
Cost: Tickets start at $22, available for purchase at www.laketahoeshakespeare.com
Bonus: Sierra Nevada Ballet will be previewing excerpts from Giselle at a free performance beginning at 8 p.m. on July 26 at Reno’s Wingfield Park.
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