A peasant girl falls in love with a nobleman and then dies of a broken heart when she discovers he's already engaged to a member of royalty. Rising from her grave, she becomes one of a group of supernatural women called The Wilis whose hearts have been broken by men and in return, force men to dance till they die.
It's Giselle, a ballet company staple around the world since it was first performed in 1841, and the Houston Ballet has mounted a production for the Miller Outdoor Theatre.
Houston Ballet Principal Melody Mennite will make her debut in the title role, after performing in it several other times as one of the ghostly women. The key to Giselle the fact that she ends up forgiving Duke Albrecht, the man who betrayed her, says Mennite. “Forgiveness is one of the most powerful things in life and one of the hardest things to do,” says Mennite, who grew up in California and studied ballet as a child (after a brief sidestep into tap) and who came to Houston when she was only 16 to apprentice with the Houston Ballet.
Mennite is well aware of the challenges of dancing at the Miller – “It all depends on what weather we have” – but points out that even at the more easily air-conditioned Wortham ballet dancers can find themselves drenched in sweat in story productions.
The Miller audience won't be short-changed in story, she says: “We don't modify any of the steps” but since the stage is smaller than at the Wortham, the corps de ballet work is a little trickier. “One thing that's different is the spacing because the Miller is the smaller stage. It affects the corps the most because they have to make lines and circles.”
Performances of Giselle are scheduled for May 15, 16 and 17 at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Drive. For information, call 281-373-3386 or visit milleroutdoortheatre.com. Free.