Making ballet more approachable with Frankenstein

Mark Allan

Special to The Record

Among other things, the artistic and executive director of Ballet Victoria has a keen sense of history.

Two hundred years after Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein and almost 150 years since the introduction of the iconic romantic ballet Giselle, Paul Destrooper has merged both in a presentation Oct. 19 at the Sid Williams Theatre.

Ballet Victoria’s Frankenstein is Destrooper’s latest attempt to make ballet more approachable for audiences.

“We like to play with different ideas and maybe push ballet in not necessarily a populist … direction, but Giselle can be seen as a little bit elitist. But there’s some beautiful music and some beautiful choreography in Giselle.”

Created by dancer Jean Coralli and choreographer Jules Perrot, Giselle is the tale of a country girl’s innocent love for Duke Albrecht. After she learns he is engaged to marry a princess, Giselle suffers violent hallucinations and dies. The Queen of the Wilis, the ghosts of young girls who die before their time, condemns Albrecht to dance until he dies of exhaustion.

“If you can approach it with a tiny bit of humour,” Destrooper explains, “you can think that Giselle is the original zombie ballet.”

Shelley’s gothic novel tells how Dr. Frankenstein creates a living creature from the body parts of several corpses.

“The creature, when it’s brought to life, it’s like a newborn. It looks at people’s relationships: It doesn’t understand the concept of good or bad.”

Wanting a relationship like the doctor has with his wife, the creature demands that Frankenstein creates a mate for it. Having second thoughts, Frankenstein destroys the creature’s mate, leading to it killing the doctor’s wife.

In Destrooper’s version, a heart inserted into the creature originally belonged to the doomed Giselle.

While all this sounds dark and morbid, Destrooper insists “a bit of the Addams Family flair” and a romantic theme will lighten the proceedings.

“It is a tragedy, the book, but I have put humour in there and some redeeming qualities of the characters. It’s still going to be family-accessible.”

Always looking for a way to include modern music with classics, Destrooper’s score

features Verdi and Shostakovich alongside some of the soundtrack from Life Is Beautiful, a 1997 Italian tragicomedy starring Roberto Benigni.

“It works,” Destrooper summarizes.

Including him, 12 dancers will be part of a two-minivan/truck convoy to come up from Victoria. The troupe’s four productions this season also include Carmina Burana and Alice In Wonderland. What pique’s Destrooper’s constantly questing imagination?

“Stories. I am interested in characters,” explains Destrooper, adding that he majored in literature at university.

“I still like telling stories. I still like looking at life and sharing those vignettes with the audience, but make it more accessible. Maybe it does make it populist but it also makes it relevant.”

With 73 new productions to its credit, Ballet Victoria is in its 16th season.

Ballet Victoria presents Frankenstein Oct. 19 at the Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay, Oct. 26-28 at the McPherson Playhouse in Victoria.

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