How It's Done: Setting the Scene

Giselle’s Peasant Pas de Deux is more than just a fun divertissement.
Published in the June/July 2013 issue.

Elena Lobsanova uses her arms to help her hold the positions in Peasant Pas. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.

Giselle is a ballet marked with opposition—the colorful, youthful vibrancy of Act I enhances the dark, mournful tone of Act II. While the story revolves around Giselle and Albrecht, supporting characters help flesh out the dramatic tension along the way. The Act I Peasant Pas de Deux, for example, may seem like just a chance to show off other performers while giving Giselle time to rest. But the series of dances (featuring an opening, a pas de deux and variations) helps set up a stark contrast to the act’s tragic turn.

Originally choreographed in 1841 by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, Giselle has been tweaked continually over the years, and the Peasant Pas is no exception. The National Ballet of Canada’s version, adapted by Sir Peter Wright, uses four dancers instead of two. However, it does preserve much of the traditional choreography, as well as the divertissement’s intention. When first soloist Elena Lobsanova danced the second female variation last December, she kept in mind her role in creating the mood of the scene. “I tried to make this girl real, not just a character,” she says. “I thought of Giselle almost as my sister—I would want to take care of her.”

Pure and Simple
The dancers who perform the Peasant Pas are Giselle’s close friends, and enter after the corps has finished dancing. “Giselle is young and naive, and very much attached to her mother and her community,” says Lobsanova. “She’s the light of the village. It’s important, in terms of character development, for us to show how much we love her. We have to perform the solos playfully for her and the villagers.” To create that sense of community, Lobsanova makes a point of making eye contact with her colleagues while she dances.

Although coupled up, the dancers’ partnerships are less romantic in nature, instead demonstrating the community’s camaraderie. Choreographically, their intricate petit allégro, sprightly pointework and generous port de bras juxtapose the grand, erect posture of the nobility. “We’re more spirited and curious, whereas the regal people are calm and reserved.”  

Trust the Movement
Lobsanova found that paying attention to her arms and upper body helped her throughout the solo. For instance, during the series of entrechat cinq to piqué à la seconde, she used her arms to cut through the space. “Strength through the elbows in the second position port de bras helps you align your back and pull up your hips, guiding the direction of the legs more efficiently.” She also put extra attack into her piqué to help maintain her balance. “If the energy of the legs in à la seconde is sharper, the position can have a longer suspension.”

During the long diagonal of waltz turns on pointe, Lobsanova sometimes found coordinating the rotation of her body while balancing on the tips of her shoes a little precarious. She used her upper body to counterbalance her weight as she extended her foot in développé devant. “It helped to lean back a bit and to trust the twist the épaulement was creating,” she says. It also gave her an opportunity to show her character’s spiritedness. “It’s actually quite a natural step. It’s best when you don’t think about it and just trust the movement.”

At the end of the variation, she invites her partner for a series of speedy emboîtés en tournant—here again, Lobsanova engages her port de bras, using strength in her opening and closing arms to help her rotate and maintain control. “For me, the arms have to be more ready than any other part of the body in anticipating movement.”

Creating Joy

The Peasant Pas’ choreographic style reflects the 19th century’s romantic purity. “It doesn’t need excess ornamentation,” says Lobsanova. The steps’ precision and spirit help the pas provide “a joyful atmosphere,” she says. “It enhances the mad scene later—you feel greater sympathy for Giselle when she dies.”